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Booker Spends Weekend In N.H., But Also Spent Big Here Before Midterm Elections

Casey McDermott, NHPR
Sabina Chen, chair of the Pelham Democrats, invited Booker to come back and speak at a future committee event.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker may not yet be ready to commit to a 2020 presidential bid – even after spending the weekend taking selfies, holding meetings, and otherwise testing the waters in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

But at a rally celebrating New Hampshire Democrats’ midterm victories Saturday, state party Chairman Ray Buckley gave Booker the kind of introduction most presidential hopefuls can only dream of.

“He’s an enormously effective member of Congress in the U.S. Senate, a spokesman for so many of our causes, a dynamic speaker at that,” Buckley said. “But to us, he’s the best friend New Hampshire Democrats had in 2018.”

And how, exactly, did Booker get on the state party’s good side?

“He gave more support to our House caucus and Senate caucus and our candidates for Congress and governor, and to the coordinated campaign than any other person,” Buckley said.

Buckley declined to offer a specific dollar amount when pressed. But Jim Demers, a prominent State House lobbyist and longtime Democratic operative, says Booker helped to bring in more than $170,000 in total.

“I think a lot of the candidates will write a five, ten thousand dollar check, but that’s the extent,” Demers said. “So it’s way beyond what’s the customary amount. And it was extremely helpful in the closing weeks for the candidates here to have the resources to get the final message out.”

Booker, for his part, said he campaigned actively for Democrats across the country and was “grateful to have been a small part of the big victories here in New Hampshire.”

During his speech at the party’s victory event, he said he was “blown away” by the class of new lawmakers elected to the New Hampshire State House.  

“You elected young people and younger people,” Booker said, pausing for laughs from the audience. “You all elected diversity on gender diversity, race diversity, LGBTQ diversity – it is amazing what you all accomplished.”

Booker said he plans to take some time during the holidays to consult with family and friends about his plans for 2019 and beyond. In the meantime, he's building more than just financial ties in this early primary state. Demers – who was one of the earliest local backers of President Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 – has been acting as a local liaison for Booker and has already signed on to support his presidential campaign, should it materialize.

“I actually told him a year ago that if he decides to run, that I’m going to support him,” Demers said after Booker’s speech in Manchester. “I think a lot of Democrats feel we need to put forward new blood, the next gen, which he is, and I think even from hearing his speech today, his message is very unifying and not divisive, and that’s the kind of politics that the American people were looking for.”

Booker said he isn’t sure when he’ll be back in New Hampshire. But he already has one standing invitation from at least one local Democrat: Sabina Chen, the chair of the local Democratic committee in Pelham, says she was also eager to reconnect with Booker because she remembered him as a fellow Stanford student in the early nineties.

“I’m the chair of the town committee in Pelham, which is the reddest part of the state,” Chen told Booker, before asking for a selfie to show fellow alumni. “So we’d love for you to come talk to us.”

“Oh my gosh,” Booker replied, before asking an aide nearby for something to write with so he could take down details to follow up on Chen’s request.

Casey McDermott is a senior news editor at New Hampshire Public Radio. Throughout her time as an NHPR reporter and editor, she has worked with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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