TAMPA — Newark Mayor Cory Booker spent Saturday night at the Tampa Convention Center preaching to the politicians.
As the keynote speaker of the Hillsborough Democrats Kennedy King dinner, Booker used personal stories, well-worn jokes and Baptist minister intonation to hammer home his message: "Stay faithful."
He encouraged a who's who of Florida Democrats, and former Gov. Charlie Crist, to continue their grass-roots efforts to get people registered to vote and out to the polls on Election Day. Booker has been on the trail for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign and also spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.
"You, right now, are in the center of the fight for the American Dream," Booker said. "It will be decided by what we do between now and Oct. 9, and what we do between now and Nov. 6."
In Florida, Oct. 9 is the deadline to register to vote for the presidential election, which is Nov. 6.
Booker participated in a get-out-the-vote drive in Tampa earlier Saturday and marveled at how young and enthused some of the volunteers were.
"I'm supposed to be the hyper, not the hypee," Booker laughed.
Now in his second term as mayor of Newark, Booker touted his successes — several crime reduction programs, a large park project, convincing major corporations to bring their headquarters to Newark.
Sometimes referred to as "America's Mayor,'' Booker showcased part of his tenure on the documentary series Brick City. He gained notoriety for pulling his neighbor from a burning house and digging out the cars of Newark's citizens following a snowstorm.
In a pre-speech interview, Booker was asked about his seeming defense of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's record at Bain Captial on Meet the Press in May.
"In this combustible period, where a sound bite becomes the next headline, I don't like those sort of broad-brush attacks," Booker said. He said he agreed with the president's stance that Bain Captial was a wealth creator not a job creator, and that Romney's jobs record should be challenged.
He dodged questions about the possibility of a run for governor of New Jersey. He told reporters he will evaluate his personal and political future after the election.
On Saturday night, Booker tried to keep the focus on the task of re-electing the president.
He told the audience that Florida — and Hillsborough County in particular — are going to be crucial in getting Obama a second term.
Booker praised Florida Democrats for staying the course in a state with a Republican governor and Republican-dominated legislature.
"The democracy that I long for will probably be decided in this state," he said. "The battle before you may be hard, but it's not impossible."