PRINCETON, NJ – He may not have been acquainted with her prior to this election, but it didn't take long for U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, to fall for former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Opening the candidate's state campaign headquarters Sunday afternoon, Booker said that he fell in “agape love” with Clinton's spirit on the primary trail, and he urged her gathered supporters to take nothing for granted this November and get out the vote.
With a line reminiscent of Black Friday trailing down the block, the second story office space on Nassau Street was filled to capacity with the lucky 200 or so of the 1,200 people who RSVP'd to the campaign for the event.
Air conditioning did little to break the localized heat wave upstairs, as people packed in shoulder to shoulder and fanned themselves with re-purposed paper plates.
Tentative applause quickly gained confidence and swelled, as Booker arrived and made his way through the crowd, stopping to speak with people, give out a few hugs and sign photographs as he went.
Citing Martin Luther King Jr., the Bible and New Jersey's pivotal role in the Revolutionary War equally with ease, Booker appealed to residents to roll up their sleeves and get started on the work that remains to be done.
“Give everything in these 51 days,” he said. “If you give the full measure of your being to the cause of our country – not to a candidate, not to an election, but the larger campaign of our country – if you give that full measure, I promise you that the next time we gather in a hot, sweaty room, we will gather with a celebration and a party on the night of the election!”
Relating an episode from his time going out with Clinton on the campaign trail, Booker said that a conversation she had with a diner waitress showed him what this presidential bid is really all about for the candidate.
“This, to her, is about the unfinished business of America,” he said. “There is an urgency about this for her. She takes this personal.”
Regardless of the election coverage on television news networks, at the end of the day, it is the personal that will carry and decide this election, Booker said.
“This is not about the candidate we have,” he said. “I am telling you right now, this is going to be an election that is won on the fundamentals. It is going to be won in the trenches, it is going to be won by individuals. The most persuasive thing is neighbors talking to neighbors, friends talking to friends.”
In a year in which unprecedented numbers of voters are expected to come out, some for the first time, Booker also stressed the importance of remaining in the voting booth just a minute or two longer to vote for all of the candidates up for election.
“It's nice to be here talking about the presidency, but please understand, it is our local elections that determine so much of the quality of life that we have here in New Jersey,” he said. “From pipelines through our states, for funding to our schools, we have fights here at the local level and we do not take these races seriously. Every presidential election, we lose down ballot races because people go in and vote for the presidential candidate and don't continue to vote and support the Democratic candidates down the line.”
Exiting past the line of supporters eager to get in, Cheryl Larsen, 64, of East Brunswick, said that she was impressed with Booker's afternoon appearance.
“It was very uplifting,” she said. “I think he brought an enthusiasm to the opening of the DNC state headquarters.”
A registered Democrat for more than 25 years, Larsen said that Clinton embodies everything that she's looking for in a presidential candidate.
“She has experience, she has compassion, she is a mother, she is a professional and I think she cares about women and the challenges that we face, not only as working mothers, but as mothers who struggle with child care,” she said. “And, most importantly, in my eyes, the importance of gun control and some kind of gun legislation to stop things like Newtown (Connecticut).”
State Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-14, said that the pairing of Booker and Clinton made for high energy levels in the crowd.
“What a combination Sen. Booker and Sec. Clinton are because, I know people came out for, as they say, the main dish, but they sure loved the appetizer!” she said. “They definitely were just enthralled with Sen. Booker and really excited about Sec. Clinton.”
Greenstein also said that she feels it's difficult to be a woman candidate running for the highest office in the land.
“It's so hard to make it to the top,” she said. “It just seems like women – they don't just attack them, they make mincemeat out of them. I think it's very tough for women and I thought if there's any woman who can do it, it would be Hillary.”
Having signed up to make phone calls and knock on doors, Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-16, said he found it encouraging that people's spirits didn't wilt in the stifling heat.
“I think what was great is, as hot as it was, and as crowded as it was, was just the huge enthusiasm for Hillary, for this election, for everybody who's on the ballot, and Princeton is this amazing place of activists, who are so engaged and so aware of the issues, so you put it all together and it's a great, great kickoff,” he said.
South Brunswick resident and Board of Education member Azra Baig said that she is looking forward to working on the Clinton campaign and encourages others to volunteer to get Hillary elected in November.
“It was exciting to see the enormous outpouring of Hillary Clinton supporters,” Baig said. “The words of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, Chairman (of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee) John Currie and state Sen. Linda Greenstein were inspiring and energized the audience to continue to work hard for 51 more days, until Hillary Clinton is elected as our next president.”
Outside, as the line periodically shuffled a few feet closer to the campaign headquarters' door, a lone supporter of Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, stood, sign in hand, making his opposition known.
Seizing an opportunity to voice their concerns to the political powers that be and toeing the protest line with the solitary Trump supporter were those against the proposed Williams Companies gas compressor station, which would be built on land owned by Trap Rock Quarry off Route 27 in Franklin Township.
The station is part of a larger plan to expand the Transco Pipeline that brings natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico to the northeast, and provides half of the resource to the New York City area, according to the company.
The expansion estimates serving around 1.8 million people in Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Long Island once completed for the 2019-2020 heating season, according to the company.
Standing in the melee of opposing political camps and environmental activists, Assemblyman Daniel Benson, D-14, reiterated the importance of voting on November 8.
“This is the most important election that we've seen – we hear this all the time – in a generation, but it really is if we want to see the promise of continuing the values that we have as the Democratic party, but are just American values, moving forward then we have to make sure that we do elect those Democrats from the bottom to the top, from the top to the bottom,” he said. “I think that you'll see America come together in support of Hillary Clinton as we get closer to this election.”