Cory Booker brought a message full of hope and unity to Philadelphia on Wednesday and light on specific policy proposals.
The Democratic presidential candidate stumped inside The Fillmore concert venue, telling more than 100 supporters about his experiences of living alongside the gun violence and poverty in Newark, New Jersey, where he was formerly mayor and continued to live.
The pressures of living in an unsafe community — where Booker said he once had watched a friend “bleed out” from a gunshot wound to the chest — provided him with a sense of urgency to address gun violence and the criminal justice system that has “disproportionately targeted” communities in cities like Philadelphia, he said.
“The folks of Philadelphia, they are going to have someone in the White House who knows communities like this” if they elect Booker, he said after the rally.
Booker is one of about two dozen Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination.
On the campaign trail, the senator, who continues to poll outside the top tier of candidates, has been one of the most vocal on the issues of white supremacy and criminal justice reform.
Booker in May released a 14-point plan to combat gun violence that has a gun licensing program as its centerpiece. The program would require a federal background check, an interview and submission of fingerprints.
When Booker spoke earlier Wednesday at Emanuel African Methodist Episocpal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the site where a white supremacist shot and killed nine Black churchgoers in 2015, he called for a national crusade against gun violence and a moral reckoning with the with the strains of white supremacy “ingrained in our politics since our founding.” He offered up a specific strategy for fighting white nationalism.
Booker did not go into those specific policy proposals during his 30-minute speech in Philadelphia, much to the disappointment of some in attendance.
Rather, he assailed President Donald Trump, accusing him of “moral vandalism” and using language associated with white supremacists to describe immigrants, like “invasion” and “infestation.”
Booker said Democratic voters ought to aspire to more than beating Trump in the 2020 general election.
“Defeating Donald Trump is the floor; it’s not the ceiling,” he said.
The senator abstained from taking political potshots at other Democratic presidential candidates.
Booker said he was running to unify a “fear-based society” that was grappling with divisiveness and hate in order to better address the most pressing issues confronting the county, including global warming, healthcare, and the “assault on public education.”
Booker polled at 2% nationally among Democratic primary voters this week only days after the second presidential debates, according to a Quinnipiac University poll with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
Vice President Joe Biden leads the large pack of Democratic candidates, polling at 32% nationally among primary voters, to the Quinnipiac poll. U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders follow at 21% and 14%, respectively.
Among Black Democrats nationally, Biden also was leading the pack, according to the poll. Biden’s support nationally was at 47%, followed by Sanders at 16%, Warren at 8%, and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris at 1%.
Philadelphia residents and twins Dervasha and Eujasha Buckery, both 28, said they attended the rally to get a better idea of Booker’s goals for the country, but remain undecided voters.
Eujasha Buckery said she connected with Booker’s discussion about gun violence, which she said was “really a serious issue for us and it’s really a painful issue for us” in Philadelphia.
But Eujasha Buckery was disappointed that Booker didn’t talk more about how he would address that and other issues.
“I thought I was coming to get more of a viewpoint on what his policies would be,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.