Cory Booker in Londonderry

Presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., told a crowd of New Hampshire voters Sunday, April 7, 2019, that this election should be a “referendum on the soul of a nation.”

LONDONDERRY — Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey gave an impassioned speech Sunday about the importance of uniting the country, and answered questions from an audience of about 300.

The speech was similar to one he gave at the National Action Conference in New York two days prior, in which he challenged voters to dream big.

Booker told a town-hall style gathering of voters at the Matthew Thornton Elementary School auditorium in Londonderry that this work of uniting a fractured country is his life’s purpose.

“I believe that this election cannot be small, it cannot be about one person and one office. It must be larger. This is a turning point in our country that’s going to be a defining moment of who we are,” he said. (See related story, Page A6)

The junior senator spent much of his time introducing himself to New Hampshire voters, by recounting stories from his formative years and citing his experience as mayor of Newark, New Jersey, saying he helped lift the city from its economic struggles to bring about the “biggest economic development boom in 60 years.”

He briefly addressed some of the policies he helped legislate in the past few years such as criminal justice reform known as the First Step Act, and Opportunity Zones, and touched on policies he continues to support, including Medicare for All, protecting LGBTQ rights, and Baby Bonds — which would create savings accounts for children that would receive yearly deposits inversely commensurate to their parent’s income, in an effort to close the wealth gap.

The idea is to start every child off with $1,000 at birth and the government would deposit up to $2,000 per year based on the child’s family income. Booker said the program would enable the lowest-income kids to raise about $50,000 by the time they are 18.

Chris Moyer, Booker’s state communications director, supplied statistics predicting that, under the Baby Bonds program, about one in 10 kids in New Hampshire (about 26,000) would qualify for the full $2,000 annual payment.

Concerning climate change, he said he is literally “losing sleep” over the issue.

“No more can you have the American Dream unless it’s a green dream,” Booker said.

He said, as President, he would rejoin the Paris Climate Accords, reinstate the Obama-era Clean Power Plan that was rolled back by President Trump, and invest in research and development for next-generation energy technology.

He also said the federal government “needs to live up to its commitment to fund our public schools,” and that teachers should be paid better and freed from student debt.

But Booker didn’t spend much time talking about policy Sunday. Instead, he focused on grander themes of fighting hate with love, reviving grace and empathy in our national discourse, and making this election “a referendum on the soul of a nation.”

When asked what makes him different from his fellow Democrats in the race, he said he is “ridiculously creative,” and gave the example of his tongue-in-cheek on-screen rivalry with late night comedian Conan O’Brien when he was mayor of Newark, which he used as a platform to champion the city’s new health-care program.

While many questions had to do with policy — How will Medicare for All affect us? How would he overhaul the public school system? What is he doing to protect LGBTQ rights? What is his position on the environment and climate change? — Booker kept returning to the themes of unity and love, making Sunday’s oratory fairly typical for the candidate since he announced his bid for office in February.

During a house party visit in Amherst the day before, news outlets reported a departure from the high-minded speeches and a pivot into policy details, with Booker explaining the particulars of the Baby Bonds plan.