Booker, Klobuchar look to turn debate performances into votes

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Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Amy Klobuchar (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 Buttigieg at 23.5 percent, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at 17.8 percent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at 17 percent and former Vice President Joe Biden at 17 percent. 

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 Trump, Nancy Pelosi 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.” 

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 Clinton, 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 Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings earlier this year where she wasn’t able to garner the headlines of fellow candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (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.”

Tags 2020 Democrats Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Brett Kavanaugh Cory Booker Democratic debates Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Pete Buttigieg

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