NOEL KING, HOST:
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker has just suspended his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Here he is in a new video.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CORY BOOKER: Today, I'm suspending my campaign for president with the same spirit with which it began. It is my faith in us, my faith in us together as a nation, that we share common pain and common problems that can only be solved with a common purpose and a sense of common cause.
KING: Cory Booker is known as a particularly good speaker, but he struggled to gain traction in the polls. NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid is watching all of this. Hi, Asma.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.
KING: So Senator Booker released that video that we just heard and also a letter to his supporters. What'd he say in the letter?
KHALID: Well, really, Noel, this comes down to money, and the campaign just says it did not have the funds to continue. You know, he pointed to the fact that he's not going to be on the debate stage tomorrow and that it's also highly likely that the impeachment proceedings are going to keep him occupied in Washington, D.C., the next couple of weeks. He is a senator from New Jersey, which means he has to be there. And that means, collectively, it's just harder to spread his message, it's harder to talk to voters, and frankly, he said, you know, it's harder to raise money.
He did also make a point, though, of saying he's chosen to drop out at this point, chosen to suspend his campaign now to give voters who have been backing him, really, time to consider who else they might back ahead of the Iowa caucuses.
KING: OK. So he's talking about the externalities that hit his campaign. You were in Iowa this week reporting on Booker, asking people what they think. What did you hear about him there?
KHALID: Well, really, you know, there is a sort of profound disconnect between voters who hear him in person, who often to - say to me, you know, how much they love him versus where he is and where his standing has been in the polls thus far. You know, he's really described as - I'd say the most common adjective I heard from people was the word charismatic.
The former chair of the Iowa Democratic Party told me she has gotten teary listening to Booker, that she has heard him multiple times and she still gets goose bumps. But, you know, she told me, also, she's not committed to backing him, and I think that this is a similar story I heard from a lot of people. And when I would go out and hear him at events, you know, whether it was sort of small house parties and whatnot, you could watch the faces in the crowd and tell that people were clearly moved listening to him.
They told me that he's very poetic as he speaks. You know, they felt that he radiated this sort of positive energy. But often, when I would ask them afterwards, well, are you backing him, they'd say, well, you know, he's in my top three. And that's kind of a predicament for him at this point. We're very close to the Iowa caucuses. He was not often people's No. 1 choice. He was somebody that they were considering, somebody that they really liked.
KING: Given how much people liked him, why was he not stickier as a candidate?
KHALID: That is a question that many of his diehard supporters were really troubled by. And, you know, I asked folks about this, and I would say I had kind of a number of reasons, and I'll drill them down for you real quick. You know, some said it was because he was African American, and so some voters surmised to us that Democrats this election cycle wanted to go with a safer option, and in their view, that was a white male candidate.
You know, other folks told me that Booker's message of love and unity, which is often something that he touted on the campaign trail, that that's just not what voters wanted this year. They wanted a fighter. They wanted somebody who would be able to definitively go up against Donald Trump on a debate stage, and they didn't think that that was necessarily Cory Booker. And then the other thing is, you know, for some folks, this came down to ideology. We've seen a real split this election cycle between progressives and moderates in the field, and it's been hard to stake out a nuanced middle ground, and that's what they thought Cory Booker was trying to do.
But, you know, for his supporters, I will say, this has been, I think, something that's confusing to understand. He is a U.S. senator. They saw him as a rising star in the party, somebody who was here in Iowa many, many months ago, who was here even, you know, campaigning for Hillary Clinton last cycle, and they could not understand why some of that charisma, charm, you know, sort of sense on the stump was not translating into the polls.
KING: All right. So Booker is out now, and we're down to 12 candidates. What does his leaving the race mean about the state of the race?
KHALID: Well, Noel, at this point, you know, it's worth mentioning that when the campaign cycle first began for Democrats, we heard a lot about the historic diversity of the field.
KHALID: Tomorrow, on the debate stage, all six of the candidates will be white. With Cory Booker's departure - you know, the Democratic field has lost a number of minority candidates in recent months - Kamala Harris, Julian Castro. There is now only one African American candidate in the race, the former governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, but he is also struggling. He was a very late entrance to this field. And so, you know, it will be interesting to see how the conversation revolves in the Democratic field...
KHALID: ...With not as many diverse candidates on the stage.
KING: NPR's Asma Khalid. Thanks so much, Asma.
KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.