NJ Republicans choose Bell to face Booker

In something of a surprise, former U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Bell won Tuesday???s Republican U.S. Senate primary in New Jersey. Bell will face off against incumbent Senator Cory Booker (D) in November. Bell was the Republican nominee in 1978, when as a 34-year old in his first campaign he ousted incumbent Senator Clifford Case.  Bell went on to lose to Bill Bradley in the general election. New Jersey has not elected a Republican to the Senate since.

The votes were split pretty evenly amongst the four Republicans vying to take on Booker. With 99% of precincts reporting, Bell led second place finisher Richard Pezzullo by just over 4000 votes, 29 to 26 percent. Brian Goldberg, a political newcomer considered by some to be the favorite to win the primary, was in third with 25%. Ramapo College finance professor Murry Sabrin was in fourth with 20%. Turnout was low with just 13% of registered Republicans coming out to vote in the closed primary.

Bell is an experienced political operative with an impressive background: an aide to presidents Reagan and Nixon and former representative Jack Kemp, a former president of the conservative Manhattan Institute, a former fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University, a visiting professor at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, and a board member of the American Conservative Union.

Bell, 71, is a well-known and respected Washington hand that will not be intimidated by the bright lights of a campaign against the flashy young Senator Booker. With his 1978 Senate campaign, he was one of the first Republicans to embrace tax cuts as a means to economic growth. Now Bell is again basing his campaign on another unorthodox issue, a return to the gold standard. Bell argues that Federal Reserve policies have devalued the dollar, causing prices to rise across the economy while feeding the federal government???s spending habit.

Bell???s championing of a strong dollar has attracted attention from some high-profile Republicans. Weekly Standard editor William Kristol praised him in a glowing editorial when Bell announced his candidacy back in March; and he was quick to react to Bell???s primary victory.

???Cory Booker starts out way ahead in the general election campaign. But Bell will run as an intelligent and aggressive full-spectrum conservative,??? Kristol wrote. ???He’ll emphasize his pro-growth, pro-Main Street agenda, with a focus on monetary policy, in particular a return to the gold standard. If Bell can get enough funding, his populist and thoughtful conservatism could pose a real challenge to Booker’s elitist and shallow liberalism.???

Forbes editor and former GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes also endorsed Bell in the primary, calling his anti-Fed policy, ???the right prescription for what is holding back the U.S. economy.??? Steve Lonegan, who pushed Booker to the limit in New Jersey???s special Senate election last October, has also lent his support to Bell???s effort.

Lonegan???s too-close-for-comfort effort against Booker showed that despite the glamour, media fawning, and superior funding of New Jersey???s celebrity senator, the incumbent could be vulnerable to direct attacks on the substance, or lack thereof, behind the carefully crafted image. While the media will likely focus on the contrast between the two candidates??? ages at least at the outset, voters will notice the contrasts between the two men. Bell is a thinker while Booker is an emoter. Booker is an unabashed liberal while Bell is an unapologetic conservative. Bell is a policy expert while Booker is??? not.

Make no mistake, Booker is the prohibitive favorite to win, but Bell has beaten long odds before. 2014 is shaping up to be a bad year for Democrats even in traditionally deep blue states like New Jersey. If Bell can unite and excite New Jersey Republicans, perhaps with a little help from a certain popular Republican governor in Trenton, he could make Booker’s planned cruise to a full term a long, hard slog.

Mark Impomeni is a freelance conservative opinion writer and blogger living in New Jersey.