POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Cory Booker risks missing next debate unless polls improve

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

The traditional Thanksgiving feast for the homeless at Eva’s Village featured turkey, trimmings and a side of primary presidential politics as Democratic candidate Cory Booker rolled in. Booker, who’s now calling himself an underdog, posed for selfies and scored applause.

The problem is that Booker’s polling so poorly — scoring just 1 or 2% in recent state and national polls — that he risks not qualifying for the next primary debate by its Dec. 12 eligibility deadline. He takes an historic view.

“No one who’s leading in the polls at this point ever went on to the presidency from our party in our lifetime,” Booker said. “We’re hoping to raise more money to get on TV or do online ads. Those are the kind of things that we see other candidates having the resources to do that’s bumping them up in the polls. We’ve got to do the same thing.”

“He’s building it all from scratch. I think he’s doing incredibly well. And now that he’s beginning to do some advertising, I think we’ll see polling move in his direction,” said Sen. Bob Menendez.

But Booker’s all-out campaign push to make the sixth debate stage remains a tall order. The Democratic National Committee rules for the Dec. 19 debate in Los Angeles now require candidates to score 4% in four national polls or 6% in two early state polls. The campaign also has to show 800 unique donors in 20 states. It’s designed to whittle down the unwieldy field of 18 candidates to those who can demonstrate broad support. So Booker’s back in Jersey — hat in hand — for donations to buy ads.

“After the last debate we saw a surge in online contributions. We just have to keep that going, so I’m hoping folks will help me out, especially in my home state. It’s been amazing to get the kind of support we have from New Jersey,” Booker said.

But will he be doing any fundraisers here?

“Right now I’m going to take it easy and do service projects for the holiday, rest up a little bit, get my voice back going, and then we’ll be running around New Jersey and then back to Iowa,” Booker added.

Ten candidates qualified for the Democratic debate in Atlanta. Only six of the current 18 candidates have managed to qualify for the LA debate so far. Meanwhile, a pro-Booker super political action committee called Dream United managed to raise only $1 million of its $10 million goal during the first six months of this year and is now dismantling. The candidate has disavowed super PACs. He’s expected to file for the South Carolina primary next week.

The DNC rules create a catch 22 for candidates like Booker: they need to poll well to qualify for the debate, and they need to debate in order to poll well and shed their underdog image.