Potential 2020 presidential contender Cory Booker will come to South Carolina — a crucial early primary state — to campaign for James Smith, the Democratic nominee for governor.
Two sources familiar with the arrangement confirmed to McClatchy and The State that Booker, a New Jersey Democrat and one of three African-Americans serving in the U.S. Senate, would make a campaign appearance to rally voters.
Jeff Giertz, a Booker spokesman, said the senator intends to campaign for Smith “and other Democrats in South Carolina before Election Day” on Nov. 6.
South Carolina has become an important test for White House contenders. It’s traditionally the first big test of a presidential candidate’s ability to win votes in the South and has been particularly significant for non-Southerners aiming to prove they have appeal in the region.
It was not known when or where Booker would be coming to South Carolina. Hurricane Florence is expected to make landfall early Friday, and the anticipated devastation the storm could bring has prompted Smith and his challenger, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, to suspend their campaigns indefinitely.
Brad Warthen, spokesman for the Smith campaign, said the campaign is focused on the hurricane and its potential impact to South Carolina.
Smith, a major in the S.C. Army National Guard, also has been activated for duty.
But Booker’s appearance, before the midterm elections and leading up to the 2020 presidential primary season, could help both men become better known in South Carolina. Chances are that the 2020 campaign season unofficially will begin almost the minute the midterm elections are over.
Smith needs to energize the Democratic base, including black voters, to beat McMaster, who has the advantage of incumbency, affiliation with the state’s dominant political party and the endorsement of President Donald Trump. Smith needs black voters to turn out in November, and party officials hope Booker’s star power could help that turnout.
“He (Booker), like many other Democrats, are on the battlefield across the country because they understand the importance of this midterm election and what’s at stake,” said Antjuan Seawright, a S.C.-based Democratic strategist. Booker, a former Newark, N.J., mayor, has been helping Democrats campaign throughout the country.
Seawright added Booker is someone who Democratic Party voters respect.
Bakari Sellers, a former S.C. state representative and a regular CNN political analyst, said Booker would bring “a lot of heft and a lot of validity to this race” and could help turn out black voters.
“If African-American turnout is 27 percent or less than 30 percent, that’ll be very difficult for James Smith,” Sellers said.
At the same time, Booker can use the opportunity to introduce himself to S.C. Democrats, who may not be familiar with him. Booker made national headlines last week as one of the most aggressive questioners on the Senate Judiciary Committee of Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Booker made a show out of saying he would risk expulsion from the Senate by publicizing documents the committee had deemed confidential, arguing they were necessary to prove Kavanaugh had controversial views on racial profiling and affirmative action.
Republicans responded they already had declassified the documents, seeking to embarrass the lawmaker. But the tense back-and-forth between Booker and committee Republicans was the moment many liberal activists, who have hammered Senate Democrats to do more to prevent Kavanaugh’s confirmation, had been waiting for.
“Bring it,” Booker told Republicans in what could be a rallying cry for his presidential campaign.