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U.S. Senator Cory Booker. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

Booker leads in airtime during first primary debate

Senator banks on guns for his breakout moment

By Nikita Biryukov, June 26 2019 11:43 pm

U.S. Sen Cory Booker led in speaking time during the first Democratic presidential primary debate Wednesday night

Booker spoke for 11 minutes and eight seconds over the course of the 10-candidate forum, which lasted for roughly one hour and 45 minutes.

The Senator fielded 10 questions and gave a brief closing statement.

There’s little question about the fact that Booker chose to focus on guns in his effort to win a breakout moment.

“I’m going to use 20 of my seconds to just to say there’s one thing we don’t all agree with when it comes to guns. I think it’s common sense, and over 70% of Americans agree with me,” Booker said when asked how he would deal with Republican obstruction over U.S. Supreme Court nominees. “If you need a license to drive a car, you should need a license to buy and own a firearm, and not everyone in this field agrees with that, but in states like Connecticut that did that, they saw 40% drops in gun violence, 15% drops in suicides.”

Booker’s answer to that question — it never touched on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and he was later given 30 seconds to address that question — lasted for just over a minute.

Just minutes before, Booker was asked another question about guns.

“I hear gunshots in my neighborhood. I think I’m the only one — I hope I’m the only one on this panel here that had seven people shot in their neighborhood just last week. So when I knew Shahad Smith was killed with an assault rifle at the top of my block last year, for Millions of Americans, this is not a policy issue,” Booker said.

“This is an urgency, and for those that have not been directly affected, they’re tired of living in a country where their kids go to school to learn about reading, writing and arithmetic and how to deal with an active shooter in their school.”

The first statement sent out by Booker’s campaign after the debate’s conclusion included a link to a recording of his answer to the gun question. That answer also led to the biggest debate spike in Google searches of Booker’s name.

A point of note: Though Booker repeatedly referred to Newark during the debate, he never did so by name.

The senator avoided trading barbs with any of the nine other candidates on stage Wednesday, though New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio made a single thinly-veiled jab at Booker early in the debate over a question on naming companies that should be subject to anti-trust action.

Booker didn’t respond.

The debate could help Booker break out of the middle of the pack, where he’s languished since announcing his presidential bid in early February.

Real Clear Politics pegs Booker’s polling average at 2.3%, putting him in seventh place behind former Vice President Joe Biden, Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.

Only Warren and O’Rourke were on Wednesday’s debate stage.

Though Booker led Google searches for most of the debate, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard edged him out in the last 40 minutes to place first in that metric.

Most of Booker’s speaking time came early into the debate, with eight of his 10 answers coming in before the hour-and-20-minute mark. Break times and a six-minute recess for microphone issues are not included in that count.

Booker was also the only candidate on the stage that did not commit to signing the Iran nuclear deal, signed under President Barack Obama, that President Donald Trump pulled out of last year.

“We need to renegotiate and get back into a deal, but I’m not going to have a primary platform to say unilaterally ‘I’m going to rejoin that deal,’ because when I’m president of the United States, I’m going to do the best I can to secure this country and that region and make sure that if I have an opportunity to leverage a better deal, I’m going to do it,” Booker said.

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