Booker, Klobuchar look to turn debate performances into votes

Booker, Klobuchar look to turn debate performances into votes
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Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerTrump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Wisconsin: poll Booker says he will not make December debate stage White House makes push for paid family leave and child care reform MORE (D-N.J.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Booker says he will not make December debate stage Yang: 2020 rivals in Senate should be able to campaign amid impeachment MORE (D-Minn.) are looking to capitalize on their Wednesday night debate performances. 

The two candidates both earned strong reviews and are hoping they can somehow turn that into momentum for campaigns that have been overlooked by many voters so far.

Klobuchar is in fifth place in the RealClearPolitics polling average in Iowa, but with just 5.3 percent — well behind the race’s big four: South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegSaagar Enjeti says Buttigieg's release of McKinsey client list shows he 'caved to public pressure' Biden hires Clinton, O'Rourke alum as campaign's digital director Trump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Wisconsin: poll MORE at 23.5 percent, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSaagar Enjeti says Buttigieg's release of McKinsey client list shows he 'caved to public pressure' On The Money: Lawmakers strike spending deal | US, China reach limited trade deal ahead of tariff deadline | Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst over new NAFTA Bill Weld: As many as six GOP senators privately support convicting Trump MORE (D-Mass.) at 17.8 percent, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSaagar Enjeti says Buttigieg's release of McKinsey client list shows he 'caved to public pressure' Sanders endorses Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur for Katie Hill's former House seat Biden hires Clinton, O'Rourke alum as campaign's digital director MORE (I-Vt.) at 17 percent and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Conservative group hits White House with billboard ads: 'What is Trump hiding?' Democrat representing Pennsylvania district Trump carried plans to vote to impeach  MORE at 17 percent. 

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Booker is even further back, with just a 1.8 percent average in Iowa. Nationally, Booker has just a 1.3 percent RealClearPolitics polling average, compared to Klobuchar’s 1.5 percent.

On Wednesday, Booker scored points when he talked about the black vote and later when he questioned Biden over whether he was “high” for his opposition to national marijuana legalization. In a statement that reflected the lack of attention he may feel his campaign has given, Booker, who rose to national prominence as mayor of Newark, N.J., noted to Buttigieg that he is the "other Rhodes scholar mayor" onstage.

Klobuchar had her own breakout moment when she talked about her electability. “If you think a woman can’t beat Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE, Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiVulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Photographer leaves Judiciary hearing after being accused of taking photos of member notes Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — House passes sweeping Pelosi bill to lower drug prices | Senate confirms Trump FDA pick | Trump officials approve Medicaid work requirements in South Carolina MORE does it every day,” she said.

Throughout the campaign, both senators have tried to find an opening or a moment to catapult them to the upper tier of the campaign. But Biden and Buttigieg — who has recently surged in Iowa and New Hampshire polls — have largely occupied that space. 

The big question looming over the senators’ campaigns on Thursday was how they could turn a strong debate performance into votes in Iowa or New Hampshire.

“Polls indicate that Democratic voters are still open to alternatives,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon, adding that both “still have a chance to get through an opening that gets smaller every day.” 

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Democratic donors offering a postmortem of Wednesday night’s debate said the two at least did enough to keep their campaigns viable. 

“They do pretty well on the debate stage but they have to try and translate that beyond these brief appearances,” one major donor said. “I think their performances allow both to keep going for a while and with all this uncertainty in the race, who knows?" 

Basil Smikle, who served as the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party and as an aide to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden hires Clinton, O'Rourke alum as campaign's digital director Trump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Wisconsin: poll Clinton tweets impeachment website, encourages voters to 'see the evidence for themselves' MORE, said Booker’s swipes at Biden “could help him get to the next debate stage if not a more substantial bump in the polls which has been elusive.” 

Klobuchar, he said, “needed to reassert herself as the Midwestern moderate with a solid record in opposition to Buttigieg,” who has suddenly become a favorite in Iowa.

Klobuchar, a Minnesotan who has focused much of her campaign on the neighboring state of Iowa — came in 6th in a recent Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll in the Hawkeye State.

“She may have appealed to Iowa voters just enough last night to mitigate his rise there,” Smikle said.

While Klobuchar has focused much of her efforts on Iowa, coming off the strong debate performance, she will spend much of the weekend in New Hampshire, where she’ll make her 18th trip since the start of the campaign. 

She’ll then return to Iowa next week and then travel to South Carolina after the Thanksgiving holiday. 

Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, agreed that Klobuchar “has shown well in spots throughout the debates.”

And while she has fallen from view in points during debates, Jillson said “her path into the second tier, if not the top tier, is clearer and she will certainly stay in the race through the early contests.” 

Jillson argued that there is less of a clear path for Booker to get into the top tier in the race, partly because so far Booker has not been able to win a significant share of support from black voters in the polls. 

“Without a base of black support to build off of, it is hard to see a broader coalition coming together around him,” he said. “Booker is likely to follow [candidate Julián] Castro out the door before the first votes are cast.” 

Bannon agreed: “Booker gets positive reviews for his debate performances but he never seems to catch on.” 

And while Klobuchar also performs well in debates, Bannon said she lacks a certain X factor with voters. He pointed to Klobuchar’s questioning of Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Progressives hope to avoid drug-pricing showdown with Pelosi | 'Medicare for All' backers get high-profile hearing | Dems take victory lap after eliminating drug protections in trade deal Justices grapple with multibillion-dollar ObamaCare case Potential Dem defectors face pressure on impeachment MORE during his confirmation hearings earlier this year where she wasn’t able to garner the headlines of fellow candidate Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — House passes sweeping Pelosi bill to lower drug prices | Senate confirms Trump FDA pick | Trump officials approve Medicaid work requirements in South Carolina Sanders endorses Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur for Katie Hill's former House seat Kamala Harris dropped out, but let's keep her mental health plan alive MORE (D-Calif.). 

“Klobuchar questioned the Supreme Court nominee very effectively but it was her colleague on the committee, Kamala Harris, who won the lion’s share of the media attention,” he said. 

Bannon then took it a step further: “Her problem is Democrats want sizzle with their steaks and she is all steak with no sizzle.”