No news was not good news Tuesday for New Jersey’s favorite-son presidential candidate, Sen. Cory Booker, as two new polls showed him once again failing to break from the scrum of also-rans in the Democratic field and challenge the front-runners in both surveys, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
At 2%, Booker lost a point since November in the Monmouth University Poll of Democratic voters. And he was the favorite of just 1% of those polled in the December survey conducted by Quinnipiac University. Hopes for a better showing had run high among the Booker camp, in the wake of excellent reviews for his previous debate performances, new digital ads and a ground operation in Iowa that drew praise.
Some experts are scratching their heads over the lack of progress by the former Newark mayor, who grew up in Bergen County.
“When I look at the reaction that people have given him in Iowa and New Hampshire and where he is in the polls, it just doesn’t seem to match up,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Poll. “People love his message, but they don’t see him as somebody, other than one of many, who will push that message forward.”
At the top of the field, Biden continued to show renewed strength, with a 5-point jump for the former vice president in the Quinnipiac Poll over his November mark, to 29%, and a 3% rise in the Monmouth survey, to 26%.
Sanders of Vermont has taken second place from Warren, his Senate colleague from Massachusetts, in both polls — 21% to 17% in Monmouth, and 17% to 15% in Quinnipiac.
Booker remains stuck among third tier
Further along in the Monmouth Poll results, amid those in the middle, Pete Buttigieg slipped a point to 8%, while New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a recent entry, was favored by 5% of respondents. Sen. Amy Klobuchar came in at 4%, a two-point rise over November and businessman Andrew Yang came in at 3%.
Booker was tops among the rest — a third tier who all drew less than 3%. The group includes former Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, newcomer Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts governor and businessman Tom Steyer.
The Monmouth Poll also found that, despite the impeachment proceedings underway in Congress, the numbers for President Donald Trump haven’t changed in a statistically significant way. Just over four in 10 voters favor him for reelection.
“The impeachment hearings over the past month have not moved the reelection needle in either direction,” Murray said.
Diverse candidates disappearing from stage
As the threshold for qualifying for next week’s debate gets harder to reach, Booker is being very direct with audiences.
“I’m asking you that, when your caller ID shows that a pollster is calling, pick up the phone and answer it, please,” he said in a video in Iowa.
His team points out that, with the recent withdrawal of Sen. Kamala Harris, a field of candidates that was once the most ethnically diverse list in history will likely feature a debate stage next week with more billionaires on it than black people.
“I think people are concerned, especially Democratic voters, are very concerned that this is going to be a debate stage that is all white and really not reflective of where the party is,” said Sabrina Singh, national press secretary for the Booker campaign.
Some pundits have suggested that Democrats want a fighter and Booker’s message of love is falling on deaf ears.
“I really have to push back on that idea that we’re down and out because it’s just the opposite,” Singh said. “We know that we have to get hot at the end. The race right now, as it looks on Dec. 10, is going to look so different come January and then February, as well.”
Murray said that it will be tougher, with Booker not likely to qualify for the debate in Los Angeles next Thursday.
“Not making the stage is tough because a lot of voters will see this as winnowing down,” the pollster said. “But we do know that, when we look at past history in Iowa and New Hampshire, is it’s really what happens in the last month — not the last two months — the actual last four weeks before those votes happen. So he still has some time to make it up.”