The Nevada Democratic caucus isn’t for another nine months. But the candidates vying to challenge President Donald Trump in November 2020 are already visiting the state.
And one of them is Cory Booker, the junior senator from New Jersey. He’s already campaigned here three times, including a slate of meet-and-greets throughout the Las Vegas Valley on May 28.
He would seem to have a natural connection to Nevada. Both New Jersey and Nevada are big gaming states. They both have very diverse populations. And both have been hit hard by opioid use.
And if that wasn’t enough, the senator’s mother lives right here in Las Vegas.
In fact, Booker told KNPR's State of Nevada that his grandparents moved to Southern Nevada years ago, and many of aunts and uncles moved here in the '90s.
He added that he feels connected to the community.
“I know frustratingly there has been a lot of challenges with public education," he said, "A lot of challenges, awfully recently, with gun violence and then just working Nevadans… the challenge that is facing working Americans all over the country is making sure you can have a living wage.”
He said finding an affordable place to live and a place to retire with security can be difficult in Nevada, as well as around the country.
“At a time where people are hailing a great economy based upon GDP numbers and Wall Street, the average Nevadan is struggling,” he said.
If elected president, Booker plans to address those problems in much the same way he helped address problems in Newark, New Jersey, where he was once mayor.
Booker said he would like to put a focus on public education, including providing more money for schools and teacher salaries.
He also wants to focus on the tax system, one that works for average workers and not just corporations and the wealthy.
If president, Booker said he would champion a much larger earned tax credit, as well as one for people paying more than a third of their income for rent.
While those may seem like tough ideas to get through a Senate currently controlled by Republicans -- and may stay in GOP hands in 2020 -- Booker believes he has learned a lot about reaching across the aisle to get work done.
“My whole purpose in my rise in Newark was showing that if we can create uncommon coalitions, we can produce uncommon results,” he said.
Booker said the country is descending into tribalism and division. He said there is an us-against-them mentality, "where we blame each other for the problems as opposed to understanding that we share a common destiny.”
As mayor of Newark, Booker said he had to work with then-Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, to find solutions to problems.
“So much of my record has been about finding that common ground and reminding people that the call of our country is to put more 'indivisible' back into 'one nation under God,'” he said.
On the divisive issue of immigration, Booker had strong words for President Donald Trump.
"We must stop the moral vandalism that is going on with this president,” he said.
Booker criticized the family separation policy instituted by the Trump administration for those seeking asylum at the border. But he also believes more needs to be done to fix the entire immigration system.
“We could build our economy so much stronger by having immigration reform,” he said, “We need to stop fear-based immigration policies and have ones that reflect our values.”
Booker also had strong opinions when it came to another polarizing issue: gun control.
“I have the boldest gun safety policy that has been put forward in this campaign,” he said.
It's a personal one for Booker because his Newark neighborhood is home to gun violence.
Besides advocating for universal background checks and a bump stock ban, Booker wants to go even further.
“If I’m the President of the United States, first and foremost, I’m bringing a fight to the corporate gun lobby like they’ve never seen before,” he said.
He pointed out that the National Rifle Association has successfully lobbied to exempt the gun industry from product liability laws and negligence laws. He would also like to ban assault rifles and better empower law enforcement when it comes to gun laws.
Booker said it used to be when someone was killed in this country, like the four girls killed in a church bombing in Alabama during the Civil Rights movement, the consciousness of the country would be raised and laws would be changed.
"But now, people die at a concert in Las Vegas and we do nothing, in a church in South Carolina and we do nothing, in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, we do nothing," he said.
Booker believes the American people are behind him when it comes to gun safety reforms, and that even gun owners will support the common sense changes to laws that he has in mind.
The candidate also weighed in on a topic that has grabbed a lot of headlines lately: reproductive rights.
“First and foremost, we need to codify Roe v. Wade through the legislature of the federal government and preserve and protect women’s rights,” he said.
If elected, Booker would go further than just securing abortion rights through federal legislation. He would establish an Office of Reproductive Freedom.
He said there is more to women's rights issue than abortion. He pointed out that the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among industrialized nations, and the toll is especially heavy on women of color.
Booker also believes that those who are against abortion should then be for more access to contraception and reproductive care.
While most of those are national issues, Booker did address an issue that is an important one in Nevada: Yucca Mountain and the repository for nuclear waste earmarked for the site 90 miles north of Las Vegas.
“My mother lives in this state and I don’t want her state to have to accept this horrible nuclear waste,” he said.
However, his stance is a little trickier because New Jersey does use nuclear power, which produces the waste in question.
Booker admitted the storage of the waste does need to be addressed, but he does not believe it should be forced on any state, especially onto an area of Native American tribal land.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, Democratic candidate for president
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