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Booker meets voters in Charles City

  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) talks to potential voters in Charles City Monday. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) takes a selfie with some potential voters in Charles City Monday. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) jokes with some high school students who attended his political event in Charles City on Monday. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) talks to potential voters in Charles City Monday. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) talks to potential voters in Charles City Monday. (Press photo James Grob.)

By James Grob,

Charles City High School senior Dawson Hinders had a question for Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) Monday morning.

Does the two-party system in the United States make people more extreme?

“George Washington mentioned that he didn’t like the two-party system,” Hinders said to Booker. “Abraham Lincoln said a house divided will fall. Do you think people lean away from the middle, because they can’t get people behind them?”

Hinders and a handful of other CCHS students had received permission to attend Booker’s scheduled campaign event at the home of Iowa House Minority Leader Todd Prichard (D-Charles City). The stop was a part of Booker’s four-day swing through Iowa this week.

Booker, the junior U.S. senator from New Jersey, said he loved Hinders’ question.

“I really think your question is right on point,” Booker said. “I think the answer is us — we’ve seen the two-party system work before, we’ve seen great compromises before. I think we have a system right now where we are all rewarding the wrong behavior.”

Booker said that when Washington made that statement as president, he was worried about factionalism, and Booker is afraid that Washington’s worries are “manifesting themselves” today.

“We’ve gotten so tribalistic in our country,” Booker said, and pointed to several examples.

He said former New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie — once a presidential candidate himself — was attacked by members of his own party when he and former President Barack Obama shared a hug when Obama visited New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.

Booker said he was criticized by those in his own party for hugging colleague John McCain on the Senate floor after Republican McCain was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

“We have vilified each other so much in this country that you can lose in politics for the sin of hugging someone in a crisis,” Booker said.

Booker also pointed to Obamacare, and said Republicans strongly favor many aspects of the health care insurance program, but vehemently oppose it when former President Obama’s name is attached to it.

“This is the call of this moment in our history. How do we begin to get people away from tribalism and back to patriotism?” Booker said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have disagreements … but it does mean that with everything we do, we find common ground.”

Booker challenged Hinders and the other students to work to make positive changes happen.

“You can’t hope for the world to be more hopeful unless you are a better generator of hope,” Booker said. “You can’t ask for the world to be more kind unless you spread more kindness. My challenge to you is to live that spirit and don’t miss opportunities for kindness.”

Hinders said he thought Booker had given him a good answer.

“I really like his energy and everything he’s talking about,” Hinders said. “I thought, not only did he answer the question but he went deeper, and he showed all the things that surround that, so it was a beautiful answer.”

Hinders will be 18 years old on Monday, Feb. 3 — the day of the Iowa caucuses — and is planning on voting. He said he was still undecided as to which candidate he intends to support.

Booker has served as a U.S. senator for New Jersey since 2013. Before that, he was mayor of Newark, New Jersey, from 2006 to 2013. He announced his campaign to run for the Democratic nomination for president on Feb. 1 of this year.

Booker is receiving just 3% support in Iowa in the latest Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll. The poll shows Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren on top with 22%, followed by former U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden with 20%, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with 11%. No other candidate hits double digits.

Booker said the current low polling numbers don’t bother him.

“We’re executing a strategy which we think is the winning strategy,” he said. “We’re organizing on the ground, we lead in endorsements from this state from legislators and local elected leaders. We’re very confident with where we are, and with about four months to go until the caucuses, I’m feeling very strong.”

He said his campaign received a fundraising boost at the end of the last quarter that would let them put more organizers in the field in Iowa. Booker’s campaign raised nearly $2 million in the third quarter, on the heels of about $4.5 million in the second quarter and $5 million in the first quarter of this year.

About 60 people attended the event in Charles City on Monday, where Booker fielded questions and talked about child poverty, gun safety issues, health care, education and foreign countries meddling in U.S. elections, among many other issues.

He told his audience that policy issues were important, but that Democrats “are not going to win this election because we have better 15-point policy plans.”

“What makes policy possible is something deeper in our culture, something deeper in our society,” Booker said. “Patriotism means love of country, and you cannot love your country unless you love your fellow countrymen and women. I’m in this race to put more ‘indivisible’ into this ‘one nation, under God.’

“This election is not a referendum on one guy in one office,” Booker said. “It’s a referendum on who we are and who we must be to each other. Leadership is reminding people that the lines that divide us are nowhere near as strong as the ties that bind us.”

On the issue of health care, Booker called many drug company practices “despicable,” and said that as president he would play “hardball,” and threatened to take away drug company patents by executive action.

“We have a nation right now where pharmaceutical companies are profiting off of people’s pain,” Booker said. “This is wrong, and the federal government is implicated in that. We don’t use our power of Medicaid and Medicare to negotiate down prices.”

Booker announced a new plan last week to cut child poverty by at least two-thirds and create opportunities for individuals and families trying to escape poverty.

“This is one of our national moral challenges, and it’s an economic one,” Booker said. “Child poverty costs this country about a trillion dollars every single year. We’ve put together a bold plan to deal with child poverty, and to cut child poverty dramatically, and to put us on a pathway to eliminating child poverty. I look forward to being a president who not only brings this conversation to the national front, but actually does something about it.”

Booker was also asked about President Donald Trump’s decision late Sunday to withdraw troops from Syria to allow a Turkish offensive there — a foreign policy move that has been criticized by members of both U.S. political parties.

“This seems to be being done without any larger strategy,” Booker said. “That could create a dangerous vacuum in that region that might be filled by Turkey and by the Assad regime. It puts critical allies in crisis. This is very troubling, and reflects a president who has no real strategy in the region.”

“We need to have a larger strategic plan in coalition with our allies,” Booker added. “This president has been conducting foreign policy by Tweet.”