Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) lobbed a fierce, post-debate attack against Democratic front-runner Joe Biden on Thursday evening, questioning the former vice president’s ability to “carry the ball” and saying other candidates had “legitimate concerns” if the former vice president would be up for a long fight for the White House. 

Booker’s comments came during an interview with CNN after the third Democratic presidential debate in Houston. It was the first time the top 10 candidates were on the same stage, and it featured bouts of intense sparring between Biden and progressive challengers. At one point in the debate, former Housing Secretary Julián Castro delivered a sharp attack against the former vice president, suggesting that Biden’s memory was failing him.

CNN’s Erin Burnett asked if it was a cheap shot against Biden, who is 76, but Booker said the attack was valid.

“I think that we are at a tough point right now because there are a lot of people who are concerned about Joe Biden’s ability to carry the ball all the way across the end line without fumbling,” the senator said. “And I think that Castro has some legitimate concerns about, can he be someone in a long, grueling campaign that can get the ball over the line. And he has every right to call that out.” 

Booker, who has long used his debate appearances to promote unity among those on stage, added: “I do think that tone and tenor is really important. We can respect [Vice] President Biden and disagree with him.… We shouldn’t do things that at the end of this, when you demonize somebody and create bad blood, it’s hard to unify afterwards.”

Castro’s comment about Biden’s memory didn’t sit well with the former vice president’s aides. Anita Dunn, an adviser to the Biden campaign, told reporters after the debate that the former Obama administration official “clearly didn’t learn from the first two debates that taking personal cheap shots at Vice President Biden actually doesn’t work out that well.”

During the interview with Booker, Burnett pressed the senator from New Jersey on if he thought Biden was “too old” to be president. 

“No, I’m definitely not saying that,” Booker replied. “I’ve listened to Joe Biden over the years and often felt like there were times that he is going on or meandering in his speech. Look, I want someone that can exit and can energize like we saw in ’08 and ’12. If I believed Joe Biden was that person, I wouldn’t be sitting here.” 

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