Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) defeated former Bogota, NJ, mayor and Americans for Prosperity state director Steve Lonegan (R) in the special U.S. Senate race in New Jersey yesterday. Booker will serve out the remainder of late Senator Frank Lautenberg???s (D) term. He will stand for election to a full six-year term again next November. With 99% of precincts reporting, Booker led Lonegan 55% to 44% and by about 130,000 votes out of nearly 1.3 million cast.
Booker???s margin of victory was in line with recent polling showing his lead in the low double digits, down significantly from the 35-point advantage he enjoyed in one poll just over a month ago. Although this was a special election on a non-traditional election day, it is worth noting that Booker underperformed President Obama, who carried New Jersey by 17 points over Mitt Romney last November. His margin will also likely be smaller than Governor Chris Christie???s (R) ??? the governor is widely expected to win reelection next month and currently leads his opponent by nearly 30 points in the Real Clear Politics polling average.
Lonegan, lacking the name recognition, star power, and funding of his media darling opponent, nonetheless ran a tough race. He raised questions about Booker???s record as mayor of the state???s largest city, hitting him time and again on increasing crime and unemployment during Booker???s tenure. Lonegan also sought to nationalize the race by tying Booker to President Obama, whose job approval in New Jersey is down to 45 percent. Lonegan painted Booker as an ???Obama rubber stamp,??? a, ???radical left-wing extremist,??? and a, ???Hollywood stand-in.??? In the end, it was not enough to overcome Booker???s advantage in deep-blue New Jersey.
Booker, long considered a future Democratic star, received criticism for running a lackluster campaign. Less than a month before election day, Booker spent an entire week out of state fundraising, including a star-studded $10,000 a plate gala at the California home of billionaire Ron Burkle. It was during this time that Lonegan was able to cut into Booker???s lead significantly, forcing Booker to address Lonegan???s charges directly. He never rebuilt his lead, continuing to slip in the polls all the way up until yesterday.
It is said that there are two types of Senator, the workhorses and the show horses. Booker projects to be the latter. His celebrity and national following are similar to Barack Obama???s when he was elected in 2006. Facing election again next year, Booker is likely to seek as much exposure as he can get. As the only African-American Democrat in the Senate, he will likely be given positions of outsized influence for a freshman.
During the campaign, Booker tried to position himself as a moderate, but he will be a reliable liberal vote for the president???s agenda. He supports Obamacare, is pro-abortion-on-demand, supports new gun restrictions, is pro-amnesty, and campaigned on raising business taxes to the tune of nearly $1.5 trillion. If he has a signature issue, it is probably education ??? he has supported charter schools as mayor and convinced Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to make a private donation of $100 million to the city???s school system. Look for him to be placed on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. As a former mayor of a medium-sized city, Booker may also score a seat on the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. Higher profile assignments could include the Commerce and Environment and Public Works Committees, where he would take seats held by his predecessor.
Booker is ambitious and will not look to make a career in the Senate. There is a good chance he will return to New Jersey to run for governor after Christie???s second term ends in 2017. At just 44 years of age, Booker could make a run for the White House in any of the next four presidential elections, if he has national plans. He has been known to keep his future aspirations closely guarded. Whatever Booker has in mind for his future, though, he will first need to get reelected next year. That makes a sure bet that the country will get a heavy dosage of Cory Booker over the next 12 months.