Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark, and former Mayor of Bogota Steve Lonegan won the Democratic and Republican primaries for the vacant US Senate seat in New Jersey. The two will face off in a special election slated for Wednesday. October 16, and the winner will serve out the 15 months remaining in the late Frank Lautenberg’s term. While the campaigning will be intense, it will take a disaster of Titanic proportions for Mr. Booker to lose. He’s too popular and New Jersey is too Democratic for any other outcome.
Some have called Mr. Booker the Next Obama. The parallel is not a particularly strong one. Where the president is cool and calculating, Mr. Booker is warm and engaging. Mr. Booker is a mayor with executive headaches and experience; the president was a legislator. The president seems interested in the big ideas, whereas Mayor Booker is focused more on individual human stories. Both men, however, are black, rather attractive, and relatively young.
Mr. Booker has made a name for himself by running one of America’s toughest cities. And he has a flair for attracting positive attention. For instance, during blizzards, he is out shoveling his constituents’ cars out of drifts; he tweets proof of this to his Twitter followers. And he even ran into a burning building not too long ago to rescue a person trapped inside. Guess how that woman will vote.
Mr. Lonegan, has already begun his attacks. Clearly, he believes the only way to win is to run a scorched earth campaign. He has condemned Mayor Bookers popularity with the “Hollywood elites,” which is Republican code for people who don’t accept the premise that small-town suburban lifestyles are the only acceptable way for good Americans to live. The attacks will be personal, ugly, and there will be under-the-bradar racist mailings right before the election.
However, a Wednesday in October is not the usual time for an American election. Indeed, New Jersey is holding a regular election as is customary on the first Tuesday of November. Governor Chris Christie is up for re-election as is the state legislature and local governments. Why spend an extra $12 million to hold the special election on this odd day when it could have been combined with the regular election?
The answer explains why even the GOP expects Mr. Booker to be the next senator and why Governor Christie opted for this path. With Mr. Booker on the ballot, there will be voters who don’t normally turn up who decide to cast a ballot after all. Mr. Lonegan has many fine qualities, but he is not anywhere near as charismatic as Mr. Booker. By holding this contest separately, the GOP will lose the senate seat, but it will have a more balanced electorate in the November races. The move was made to protect the GOP down-ballot candidates.
As soon as he is sworn in, there will be pundits who start talking about a Hillary Clinton-Cory Booker ticket in 2016. That is premature. What one hopes is that Mr. Booker can make the transition from a mayor with executive power to senator with legislative responsibilities. He’s done well for Newark, but doing well for all of New Jersey will take something different.