When the question of how to address gun violence in the U.S. reached Sen. Cory Booker, he made the answer personal, recalling when he heard gunshots in his Newark, New Jersey neighborhood.
“I think I’m the only ... I hope I’m the only one on this panel here that had seven people shot in their neighborhood just last week,” he said. “Someone I knew, Shahid Smith, was killed with an assault rifle at the top of my block last year.”
On a crowded debate stage, Booker stood near front and center and managed to grab several moments in the spotlight in a two-hour span, during which he spoke for nearly 11 minutes — the longest of any candidate, according to a New York Times analysis. He used that time to stake out positions on gun control, LGBTQ rights, immigration and the economy.
On guns, he wrapped his wide-ranging gun policy neatly into one comparison.
“If you need a license to drive a car, you should need a license to buy and own a firearm,” Booker said.
The moment appears to be one of several that steered viewers to look him up. Late Wednesday, Google reported that Booker was the most searched candidate during the debate.
The 50-year-old former Newark mayor did not seem to make any missteps and found few challenges on the debate stage. When the moderators asked him if he believed pharmaceutical companies — several of which are based in New Jersey and have supported his past political campaigns — should be held responsible for the opioid crisis, he answered directly.
“They should absolutely be held criminally liable, because they are liable and responsible,” he said. ”This is one of the reasons why well before I was running for president I said I would not take contributions from pharma companies, not take contributions from corporate PACs, or pharma executives, because they are part of this problem.”
On social issues, he highlighted the worries of children in the LGBTQ community who skip school for fear of being bullied.
“We don’t talk enough about the trans community, especially the African-American trans community,” he said.
Booker, who has built his reputation on social media, has centered his campaign on building bridges and finding a “common purpose” across political divides. He found himself alone on one question posed by moderators — whether he would rejoin the Iran nuclear deal as it was originally written.
When every other candidate raised their hands, Booker’s remained down. The reason? To leverage better terms. Other candidates shifted toward similar answers when it was their turn to speak.