Cory Booker’s name rings bells. This much is undeniable. But one major looming question is how loudly those same bells will toll for him during the first debate for Democratic presidential candidates Wednesday night in Miami?
The New Jersey senator’s campaign has seemingly stalled. That is if you let polling tell the whole story. The latest poll placed Booker in sixth place out of 24 candidates, and he was trailing Kamala Harris, the only other Democratic White House hopeful who is Black. However, if you’ve been paying attention, Booker’s profile has arguably never been higher, or stronger.
In all actuality, the 50-year-old is riding a wave of momentum that was steadily building up well before last week’s House testimony about reparations. And his war of words with Joe Biden, the frontrunner candidate, over the former vice president’s glowing words for pro-segregation senators certainly didn’t hurt either. Booker also gave an emotional and fiery speech at the South Carolina Democratic Convention this past weekend.
But to be completely honest, it still seems like something is missing.
Booker has a chance to fill in those apparent blanks Wednesday night, but will he?
“Few other contenders are under as much pressure to distinguish themselves at this debate, and the one next month, as he is,” the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin wrote about Booker on Tuesday.
With arguably the weakest field among both debates Wednesday and Thursday night — he faces off against former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; former Maryland Rep. John Delaney; Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke; Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan; and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — this could be Booker’s biggest chance to distinguish himself from his rivals before what is all but guaranteed to be a punishing primary season.
(The rest of the Democratic field — Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Pete Buttigieg, Biden, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Andrew Yang, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Rep. Eric Swalwell and Marianne Williamson — takes the debate stage Thursday night.
While Warren is the strongest debate opponent (again, according to polling) Wednesday night, Castro is no slouch, either, which means this will be far from a cakewalk for Booker.
As such, here is one possible roadmap the esteemed senator could follow in what is as close to a make-or-break moment as there has been for a candidate in these early stages of the 2020 campaign season. Here are five things Booker should at least consider doing Wednesday night during the first Democratic presidential debate.
1. Make sure America knows who Cory Booker is. Despite his heavy name recognition, chances are that not all voters, even Democrats, really know who he is or what he’s about. Wednesday night is Booker’s chance to rectify that situation with a proper introduction on national TV, and he knows it.
2. Don’t waver. Chances are that Booker’s fellow candidates will try to call him out for recently not ruling out ever meeting with Nation Of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, who many people have called anti-Semitic. Booker’s comments, which seem to have been taken out of context — “I don’t feel the need to [meet with Farrakhan], but I’m not one of these people that says I wouldn’t sit down with anybody to hear what they have to say” — came in the days after he had some choice words for Biden’s apparent embrace of racist former senators.
3. Keep the pressure on Biden. With the former vice president leading the polling pack by double digits, it would probably behoove all candidates to aim for the top. In this case, that could mean Booker keeping Biden’s recent spate of racial missteps as a primary talking point for why voters should consider other candidates. Doing so could spur other candidates on the stage Wednesday night to do the same, a risky move that might hurt Biden but could also further damage the Party as a whole.
4. Galvanize Democrats. Yes, Booker should go all out to show America he’s a candidate whose White House ambitions should be taken seriously. But he should also keep his eyes on the Democrats’ prize, which is to keep Trump from being re-elected. Booker and his fellow Party members running for president must keep in mind that any attack they launch on each other is more than fair game for Trump to use when he debates whichever Democratic becomes the Party’s nominee.
5. Go for Trump’s head. The New York Times speculated that Booker may be guilty of being “too nice.” What better place to disprove that rumor than on the national debate stage where he can take aggressive aim at his Democratic rivals as well as the president, whose recent comments about reparations could serve as the perfect ammunition for Booker?
The debate starts at 9 p.m. EDT and will be televised live on NBC, MSNBC, and Telemundo.