Washington (AFP) - Citing a lack of funds, US Senator Cory Booker dropped out of the Democratic presidential nomination race Monday, a move that leaves a less diverse field vying to face Donald Trump in November's election.
"It's with a full heart that I share this news," Booker said in a statement on the eve of the last Democratic debate before Iowa kicks off the nomination voting on February 3.
"Our campaign has reached the point where we need more money to scale up and continue building a campaign that can win -- money we don't have, and money that is harder to raise because I won't be on the next debate stage," Booker said.
The New Jersey senator said his role as a juror in the upcoming impeachment trial of President Donald Trump would further cramp his fundraising abilities, "because the urgent business of impeachment will rightly be keeping me in Washington."
Perhaps more than any candidate, the 50-year-old Booker, a skilled orator with a million-watt smile, had channeled unity, hope and optimism on the campaign trail.
"I believed to my core that the answer to the common pain Americans are feeling right now, the answer to Donald Trump's hatred and division, is to reignite our spirit of common purpose to take on our biggest challenges and build a more just and fair country for everyone," he said.
Early on, the crowded Democratic field was praised for being the most diverse in history.
But the departure of Senator Kamala Harris, who dropped out in December, and now Booker leaves just one black candidate, Deval Patrick, among the dozen remaining Democratic hopefuls.
But the former Massachusetts governor is barely registering in the polls.
- Moral clarity -
All six candidates in Tuesday's debate are white: former vice president Joe Biden, senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and billionaire activist Tom Steyer.
Candidate Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur of Taiwanese descent, and Tulsi Gabbard, who is Samoan-American, failed to qualify for Tuesday's debate stage.
Obama-era cabinet member Julian Castro, the only Latino in the race, called it quits last week.
Yang was the only candidate of color on the debate stage in December, and he poignantly called it "both an honor and disappointment."
Booker, an effervescent presence on the trail, had called for a revival of civic grace, saying moral clarity was necessary in trying times.
He earned praise from Democratic voters for advocating for criminal justice reform and stronger gun safety laws. He also called for raising taxes on the wealthy, and sought reforms to the health care system.
But his campaign never caught fire, and in recent months he languished at around two percent support nationally.
Trump, in typical fashion, sarcastically mocked Booker as he exited the race.
"Now I can rest easy tonight," the president tweeted. "I was sooo concerned that I would someday have to go head to head with him!"
Booker earned a flood of praise and gratitude from fellow Democratic candidates, however, and some commentators have speculated about him as a possible vice presidential pick.
"You made our politics better just by running," Biden said.