Election 2020 Cory Booker (copy) (copy)

2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker speaks at an event in Charleston on March 2, 2019. The New Jersey Democrat participated in a CNN town hall in Orangeburg on Wednesday night. File/Meg Kinnard/AP Photo

ORANGEBURG — Recalling the difficulty President Barack Obama faced enacting his agenda while battling a Republican-controlled Congress, Ra Shád Gaines wanted to know how U.S. Sen. Cory Booker would handle a similar situation if he wins his own 2020 presidential bid.

Booker rejected the premise. The only way Democrats can succeed, he told the progressive activist from Aiken, is if they stop accepting failure at any level of government and seek to win the balance of power in all 50 states.

"We may have a president that's of the Democratic Party, but a lot of the problems here in South Carolina — savage cuts to education, the failure to expand Medicaid — these things are happening because we're not taking back enough Statehouses," said Booker, D-N.J, drawing sustained applause.

The question came towards the beginning of a more than hour-long CNN town hall Wednesday night, broadcast live from Stevenson Auditorium in Orangeburg, in which Booker fielded questions on a wide range of topics, including marijuana, guns, climate change, reparations, education, impeachment, student loans, faith and unity.

CNN plans to host town halls for all of the presidential candidates, and many have already participated in one.

But Booker's was the first to be broadcast from South Carolina with a Palmetto State crowd. The network pre-selected S.C. Democratic primary voters from the audience, which included students from two historically black universities, S.C. State and Claflin, to ask Booker questions.

Rev. James Vigen, a pastor at Orangeburg Lutheran Church, got Booker to elaborate on his Christian faith, which Booker said taught him to have "humility before God."

To Miriam Birdsong, a retired nurse and educator from Summerville, Booker promised to tackle high prescription drug prices and push towards a single-payer Medicare-for-all health insurance system.

"Healthcare is an American right and the current system is definitely wrong," he said.

He reiterated his support for the so-called "Green New Deal" in response to a question from Mary Wright, an office manager from Myrtle Beach, calling for a "bold vision" to address climate change.

Sign up for updates!

Get the latest political news from The Post and Courier in your inbox.


He demurred on calls from Yvonne Jones, a mental health counselor from Irmo, to push for Trump's impeachment, saying he would instead "send him packing from the White House" by beating him in the 2020 election.

And he told Alejandra Gonzalez-Rizo, a S.C. State student, that he would push for a pathway to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants, saying the country's immigration laws need to reflect its historically welcoming values. 

In a crowded field, Booker's answers were predictably directed towards the Democratic base, and the crowd received many answers warmly. But some Republicans tuned in, too. Mandi Merritt, a spokeswoman from the Republican National Committee, called Booker's policies "out-of-touch" and warned that pricey progressive programs would leave South Carolinians to foot the bill.

Booker did offer at least one key note of bipartisanship with a South Carolina Republican, touting his work with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott to promote the "Opportunity Zones" program, which offers tax incentives to lure investors to low-income communities.

The town hall marked Booker's 4th trip to the state since launching his campaign.He is scheduled to return to Orangeburg in May to deliver the commencement address to S.C. State's 2019 graduating class.

The entirety of Booker's town hall will be available to watch beginning Thursday on demand via cable or satellite systems, CNNgo platforms and CNN mobile apps.  

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.