Booker Hits Steyer in Fundraising Email After Drop in Polls

Says billionaire's personal wealth 'hard to compete with'

Democratic New Jersey senator Cory Booker / Getty Images
October 9, 2019

Cory Booker sent a fundraising email Tuesday criticizing fellow Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer after a new poll showed Steyer 5 points ahead of the New Jersey senator in early primary states.

Steyer, a finance billionaire and Democratic megadonor, has surged in the polls despite his late entry into the race. His largely self-funded campaign has managed to pass Sen. Booker (D., N.J.), one of the earliest declared candidates in the crowded primary field. In the email, Booker called Steyer's personal wealth "hard to compete with," writing that Steyer's "ability to spend millions has helped him gain in the polls like no one else in this race."

Booker's criticism of Steyer comes after the New Jersey senator retracted a threat to exit the race without a dramatic increase in fundraising. He narrowly met his $1.7 million fundraising goal hours before the campaign's self-imposed September deadline. Though Booker declared a "viable path" to victory following the fundraising stunt, his latest email acknowledges the campaign's struggle to attract support.

Booker's email highlights a recent Morning Consult poll surveying early primary state voters. The poll lists Steyer at 8 percent support, placing the billionaire businessman behind only former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.). Booker is a distant seventh. He trails the California billionaire by 5 points.

Booker has dismissed the importance of polls in the early stages of the primary, saying in an Oct. 1 CNN interview that the campaign is more focused on raising money. His campaign email emphasized Steyer's big-spending campaign, noting that Steyer "pledged to spend at least $100 million of his own fortune" and has "already spent over $12 million in the last three months."

"I'll be honest, team, that's going to be hard to compete with," wrote Booker. "Our campaign doesn't have endless resources to pour into eight-figure TV buys or flood your Facebook feed with digital ads."

Booker went on to ask for campaign cash, though instead of using the money for advertisements to counter Steyer, Booker said he would hire more field staff "to spread our message on the ground" in an expansion of his already hefty payroll.

Booker has already dedicated a large portion of the campaign's budget to staff salaries. After spending $1.6 million on payroll in quarter two, Booker announced he would spend over half of the campaign's $7.2 million fourth quarter budget on staff.

Booker spent hundreds of thousands more on second quarter staff salaries than South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, despite raising $4.5 million to Buttigieg's $24.9 million.

Booker isn't the first Democratic presidential candidate to criticize Steyer's self-funded war chest. Montana governor Steve Bullock attacked Steyer in August, saying "we're kidding ourselves if we're calling a $10 million purchase of 130,000 donors a demonstration of grassroots support."

A recent Public Policy Institute of California poll showed Steyer garnering just 1 percent support in his home state.

Other self-funded Democratic campaigns have failed to garner the same disapproval. Democratic governors Jared Polis of Colorado and J.B. Pritzker of Illinois spent $20 million and $161.5 million on their respective races. Sanders campaigned for Polis in 2018.