Why Booker May Not Make it to the Next Presidential Debate

Senator faces a challenge in raising his poll numbers in early-voting states

Sen. Cory Booker has not yet qualified for participation in the December debate among candidates for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. But Booker’s campaign says the overnight response to his performance in the November debate has helped him top one requirement of 200,000 individual donors.

His campaign manager, Addisu Demissie, said that in the November debate Wednesday night, “Cory Booker set himself apart from other Democrats in the field by showing how his lived experiences make him the best candidate to unite the party and beat Donald Trump. Cory’s message clearly struck a chord with Democratic voters who want to make sure his voice is a part of the next debate.”

Booker (D-NJ) is polling at 2% and 3%, but he must score 4% or more in four nationally conducted polls in the early voting or caucusing states, or at least 6% in two surveys in the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to get onto the December stage.

Crossing the donor threshold is one thing for the campaign, but trying to raise those poll numbers in early-voting states might prove to be a lot more challenging.

“He might be able to get it from his performance in this most recent debate. The problem that he has right now is he’s running out of time. There won’t be that many polls. You have Thanksgiving coming up. A lot of us, including myself, will not be doing a lot of polling over the next few weeks,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

The deadline to qualify is Dec. 12 for the candidate, who wins good reviews for his debate performances and reliably delivers memorable one-liners: “The issues do matter. I have a lot of respect for the vice president. He swore me into my office as a hero. This week, I literally hear him say that ‘I don’t think we should legalize marijuana.’ I thought you might have been high when you said it,” he said, referring to fellow candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden.

“Cory Booker has a hopeful message. He has a unifying message. But it seems to be more of a general election message. This electorate in the Democratic primary wants conflict. They want a fight. And the radical side, the more progressive side of this party right now, isn’t really ready for that type of message is my belief,” said Democratic strategist Bill Caruso.

An unusual campaign

This week, The Atlantic called Booker’s campaign the oddest phenomenon in the 2020 race. The article reads, “Usually when a politician gives a great speech, people cheer and immediately start saying that person should run for president. But when Booker gives a great speech while running for president, people cheer and … immediately start discussing what they’re going to get for lunch.”

“When I write my story about my reflections on the 2020 campaign, the answer to the big head-scratcher of this campaign will be why didn’t Cory Booker get more support than he did early on?” Murray said.

Booker insists this is no time to write his campaign’s epitaph, especially for a candidate with seemingly eternal optimism, looking to defy the doubters and poll numbers in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation contest in February.

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