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Booker Is Building His 2020 Campaign for the Long Haul

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Though he’s not looking likely to raise anywhere near the money of Sanders, O’Rourke or likely Harris, he has been scaling up his campaign, insisting that his team is sticking to the budget they built as he was in his final deliberations on whether to run and haven’t yet diverged far from the plan.

In 2008, Barack Obama won the nomination not because he was an amazing speaker or an historic candidate, but because his team built an operation rooted in turning out new voters that made a bet on a primary fight that would go on for months. No one knows which theory of the race is going to prove right this time around—a quick thinning or the field or a slow, crowded grind—but Booker and his team believe that going more conventionally will still be what wins, even as other campaigns believe he’s letting the race pass him by.

Booker’s team is building off groundwork that was laid for years, with Booker and his staff offering help to candidates and then checking back in with them  around the country, particularly in the states that vote early. They asked for nothing particular in return as they and the people they were talking to knew all along this was almost certainly going to lead to a presidential campaign in which he’d want their support.

He pitched in with fundraising—$375,000 to various players in Iowa, $170,000 in New Hampshire, $100,000 in South Carolina. Along the way, he used the work to connect with operatives, like Mike Frosolone, now his Iowa state director. He  first met Booker in a diner in north Jersey last year, after the Democratic state assembly leader he was working for flew in for a meeting. Now he’s leading a team of 17 staffers in Iowa.

“We’re of the firm belief that this is going to be a race in which every candidate is thoroughly examined, and we think people are going to like Cory more and more as they get to know him,” a top Booker adviser told me on Tuesday morning. “This is going to be a long year—there are 316 days to the caucuses.”

The most obvious contrast to Booker right now is O’Rourke, and not just because the former Texas congressman was getting the political celebrity treatment in the same parts of Iowa, on the same weekend that Booker was drawing bigger crowds but being largely ignored by the press.  O’Rourke has yet to lay out almost any specific policy position, but he talks non-stop about bringing people together and his conviction that he can do it just because of who he is.

After an event in Waterloo, I asked O’Rourke if he still felt, as he told Vanity Fair in his pre-launch cover spread, “born to be in it.”

O’Rourke didn’t pause.  

“I feel like this is my purpose, being with people, being where people are coming together with the common purpose of getting things done. When I say I’m born to do it, I think that’s—we were just talking about Joseph Campbell,” he said. “He talks about following your bliss—my bliss is in service, is in working with people, is in trying to find the commonality in the midst of great division. I feel like I have something to contribute in this way.”

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