CHARLOTTE, N.C. — If Cory Booker decides to run for president one day, he already has a personal connection to the first caucus state of Iowa.
The mayor of Newark, N.J., told about 60 Iowa delegates during a Democratic convention gathering that he was not only “a son of New Jersey but a grandson of Iowa.” His 94-year-old grandmother was born in Des Moines, Booker said, and his family had ties to a now abandoned south-central Iowa mining town called Buxton, where many black families moved “to make a hope and a dream become a reality.”
"This is the state that brought my family from deep poverty to the middle class. … This is the state that will determine our destiny," Booker said of Iowa, pleading with the delegates for an all-hands-on-deck effort to re-elect President Barack Obama.
For Booker and a slate of rising stars in the Democratic Party, the national convention in Charlotte amounts to a try-out before local activists, financial donors and well-connected political heavyweights from early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire and perennial battlegrounds such as Florida. Some already have established political reputations and a large network of donors, while others are trying to raise their national profiles.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the most prominent Democrat in the 2016 equation, is half a world away, traveling on an 11-day, six-nation tour of the Asia-Pacific region. The former New York senator’s popularity has grown steadily since her primary loss to Obama in 2008, but she has repeatedly denied that she’s interested in running for president in four years. Nevertheless, the Clinton brand is on display this week, with former President Bill Clinton nominating Obama on Wednesday night.
Obama’s running mate, Vice President Joe Biden, has not ruled out another presidential run and speaks Thursday night, shortly before Obama’s address. The vice president, who would be 73 by 2016, arrived in Charlotte on Tuesday and planned to attend a private event Thursday night with top Obama donors at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Another 2016 contender, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was keeping a low profile. Cuomo, whose sky-high approval ratings and political pedigree have generated talk of a future presidential bid, was traveling to Charlotte for Obama’s address on Thursday but limiting his public events to a morning speech to his home state’s delegation breakfast.
Up-and-coming Democrats like Booker, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa were making the rounds before state delegations and at private events, introducing themselves to activists and trying to make a good first impression.
he head of the Democratic Governors Association, O’Malley appeared before Iowa’s delegation Wednesday morning, noting that he worked in the state for Colorado Sen. Gary Hart’s presidential campaign in 1984 and 1988. “I traveled all around the state – all 99 counties. Iowa is a great state,” he said. O’Malley recently snared a prime speaking role in Iowa next month, headlining Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual fundraising steak fry, adding to speculation about a future run.
But the Maryland governor’s convention week got off to a rocky start on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, when he was asked if Americans were better off than they were four years ago. “No,” O’Malley said, exposing a rift with Obama’s campaign. O’Malley argued that the more pressing issue was that the nation is “not as well off as we were before George Bush brought us the Bush job losses, the Bush recession, the Bush deficits, the series of desert wars.”
Warner, who made millions in the cellular phone industry, joked to the Florida delegation that he was the only politician who would ask them to “please leave your cellphones on” during his speech. A former Virginia governor, Warner offered a firm defense of Obama’s policies and efforts to revive the economy.
"America is better off today than it was four years ago with this president," said Warner, who spoke to the Iowa delegation on Wednesday.
Klobuchar also spoke to Iowa activists on Wednesday, highlighting her close ties to her neighboring state. Asked if she was considering a future White House bid, she said, flatly, “No. I love my job right now.”
After Villaraigosa wrapped up his speech to the Iowa delegation on Monday, organizers presented the mayor with a gift bag that included a map of Iowa and announced he would headline the state party’s annual fundraiser, the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, next month. “I’m coming back,” he beamed.
The 43-year-old Booker, a possible challenger to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in 2013, met with both the Iowa and Florida delegations, a sign of his growing national reputation. A regular on cable television and Sunday news shows, the mayor riled some Democrats in May when he criticized Obama’s critique of private equity firm Bain Capital, which was co-founded by Romney.
But by Tuesday, all appeared to be forgiven. Booker, a platform co-chair, energized the arena in his address on the opening night, telling delegates, “We are a nation with liberty and justice for all,” prompting chants of “USA!”