Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke.
Carli Pierson, The Independent
It was a surprisingly good night for nearly all 10 candidates onstage Thursday evening in the third round of the Democratic debates — but it was a breakout night for New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. The debates were held at Texas Southern University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Houston. Before panning to the candidates, Univision host and debate moderator Jorge Ramos announced to viewers, in Spanish and English, that “This is our country, too.” Both the location of the debate and the statement from Ramos sent a clear message to Americans that, this year, racism and social justice are among the most important issues that the candidates will need to address.
And while coming into Thursday night all eyes were on the top polling candidates (Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders), it was the savant from New Jersey who dominated the evening, especially considering the lesser amount of airtime he was given compared to the frontrunners.
It’s worth noting here that polls don’t always predict who is going to win a party nomination. Historically, during a competitive nomination process like the one the Democratic Party is in right now, the early frontrunner in the polls doesn’t always end up becoming the party’s pick for nominee. That happened in 2004 when John Kerry barely beat John Edwards, who ended up being his running mate in that year’s elections. The same happened in 2008, when Hillary led the polls in 2007, but Obama ended up becoming the Democratic nominee at the end of the primary season in June 2008.
With five months left to go, last night was a clear reminder that lesser known candidates can surge ahead, and that there’s a good chance Booker could end up clinching the nomination. The Rhodes scholar, Yale law grad and former mayor of Newark was charismatic and poised. His responses were thoughtful and informative. His quip about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s hair being menacing was hilarious.
This wasn’t Booker’s first night on the job, either. He did well in the initial two debates, but Thursday evening he was unstoppable. The Senator did a great job teaching the audience about his political record and his views without sounding like an advertisement for himself, something that can’t be said for Sen. Kamala Harris, for example.
In the first debates in June of this year, memes of Cory Booker’s facial expression when Beto O’Rourke spoke Spanish nearly broke the internet. And last night when Booker was asked by Ramos whether, as a vegan, he thought Texans and Iowans should follow his diet, he joked “NO. Let me translate into Spanish: NO.”
Without getting too confrontational, Booker brought O’Rourke’s popularity down a notch when he called out the former Texas Congressman’s sudden sensitivity to gun violence after what happened in El Paso (where O’Rourke is from), when gun homicide is a daily reality for people in low-income black communities. The Senator had sharp insights for the rest of the panel, too, when he pointed out that the only focus on gun violence as a problem is when it affects wealthier, whiter areas. He explained, “This is a crisis of empathy in our nation. We’re not going to solve this if we have to wait for the violence to hit our community.” The fact that black people in this country are living with the reality of gun violence every day was something all the candidates needed to be reminded of.
In short, there was no issue that Cory Booker didn’t handle with finesse. At the end of the night the Senator mentioned an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.” Well, Cory – you just may have more people going along with you than the pundits predicted. So keep at it.
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