At First Democratic Debate, Booker Makes Inroads

New Jersey’s senator talked the most and inspired the most web queries

In the spin room aftermath of the first NBC News Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Cory Booker was mobbed, his every step accompanied by a horde of cameras and microphones, confirmation that the New Jersey senator had accomplished the task of presenting himself as a viable candidate with political and policy chops.

“I was frustrated that I didn’t have a chance to talk to a lot of issues. Climate change is an existential threat. Greenpeace says that me and Gov. Inslee have the best climate record and climate plan of all the candidates, and I didn’t get a chance to discuss this. So I understand that there are a lot of issues and a lot of people, but I’m really looking forward to future debates,” Booker said.

On a stage with nine other candidates, facing five moderators and limited to 60-second responses, Booker managed to not only talk the most but — all told — was the most searched candidate of the night, according to Google Analytics. It’s a victory for a candidate looking to raise interest.

While he may have lacked some of the cantankerousness of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and didn’t engage in some of the more fiery exchanges like Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke, Booker did have a few highlights.

“Someone I knew, Shahad Smith, was killed by an assault rifle at the top of my block last year. For millions of Americans this is not a policy issue, this is an urgency. And for those who have not been directly affected, they’re tired of living in a country where their kids go to school to learn about reading, writing, arithmetic and how to deal with an active shooter in their school,” Booker said.

“Another place to focus on is to stop the lynching of African Americans. We do not talk enough about trans Americans, especially African American trans Americans, and the incredibly high rates of murder right now,” he added.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren was still at the center of the debate, literally, and she projected the confidence and polish of a front-runner. Castro also performed well, according to many observers. But Booker, who has been hovering around the edges of the front-runner pack, appeared to make the biggest strides.

“I’m really proud of how I did on that debate stage last night and a lot of Americans who didn’t know me, my background, the successes I’ve had as a chief executive and a senator, they learned a lot, got a chance to learn something about me tonight,” Booker said.

Day Two of the debates will feature some of the other big names — Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, among them. Booker had some buzz coming into Thursday, but come tomorrow, someone else will have replaced him. Still, the consensus from the Booker campaign last night was “mission accomplished.”