Written by Patch Political Reporter Keith Brown
Pundits have said all along that Newark Mayor Cory Booker would cruise easily to victory in the race for the Democratic nomination for a vacant U.S Senate seat.
He's got national name recognition. He's got plenty of money. His polling numbers are astronomical, they said.
Turns out that was a safe call, as Booker in preliminary results on Tuesday secured the Democratic nomination to run for the U.S. Senate seat of the late Frank Lautenberg.
Booker accepted the nomination at a swank post-election party in Newark, having trounced his competition. In the Oct. 16 general election, Booker will face Steve Lonegan, a Tea Party favorite and former mayor of Bogota who landed the Republican nomination in Tuesday's polling.
"I am going to the U.S. Senate the same way I came to Newark," Booker said in a speech to hundreds gathered outside the Prudential Center in Newark. "To be a positive agent for change."
In preliminary tallies for the Democratic nomination, Booker received more than 60 percent of the vote, far more than his nearest challenger, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-6), who received about 20 percent. U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12) trailed with about 15 percent and state Assembly speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34) had less than 5 percent.
The tallies do not include mail-in votes.
In the Republican primary, Lonegan skated to an easy victory over Somerset County doctor Alieta Eck. Lonegan collected about 90 percent of the vote to Eck’s 10 percent.
"I'm energized," Lonegan said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. "I wish I had another event to go to."
The special primary was unusual for the middle of August, and while official voter turnout numbers were unavailable Tuesday night, the numbers are widely expected to be low.
Gov. Chris Christie in June made the call to hold two special elections – a primary and a general – to fill the U.S. Senate vacancy left by Lautenberg's death instead of adding to the ballot in the regularly scheduled November general election, when Christie will by vying for re-election.
Critics decried the Christie's move, calling it an unnecessary expense of at least $24 million. A lawsuit to block Christie’s decision was struck down by the state Supreme Court.
In his victory speech, Booker promised to work for wage equality, marriage equality, to end child poverty and to raise the minimum wage.
"I tell you right now, make me your senator New Jersey and my pledge to you is that I will be unwavering in my focus in finding common ground and making things necessary the things that need to get done for our state," Booker said.
Booker came out of the gates of the abbreviated campaign huge advantages over his democratic rivals: He was known from coast to coast and people opened their wallets for him.
The Booker campaign has been awash in money, taking in six times as much as his nearest competitor in July, the last period reported to the Federal Election Commission, and raising a running total of $8.6 million for his bid to be New Jersey's junior senator.
Booker has spent like no one in the race, too, dropping more money than all his competitors combined.
Booker in July spent $2.5 million. All five of his competitors, Republican and Democrat alike, spent a grand total of $1.8 million during the same period, according to campaign finance reports.
He's also traded in on his so-called star power, attracting Oprah Winfrey and Eva Longoria to aid his campaign. Booker alsobrought in a long list of big-name out-of-state donors to his campaign war chest.
The abbreviated campaign was mainly a placid affair among both the Democratic and Republican candidates, until the last week when the frontrunners on either side of the aisle took heat, allowing their competitors to take strike stinging blows that had eluded them previously.
The New York Times reported that the two-term, full-time, Newark mayor found time to launch an internet startup that made him a $1 million richer while running New Jersey's largest city. The company, a video aggregation company called Waywire, has big investors who are also big contributors to Booker's campaign.
Then, the New York Post reported Booker has been receiving equity payments from his former law firms that he has failed to disclose.
Questions about both are unlikely to go away during the run-up to the October special election.
Likewise, Lonegan did not escape unscathed.
Late last week, a Lonegan staffer sent out a racially-charged tweet during the final Democratic Primary debate.
The staffer, who Lonegan has not named and said would not be fired, tweeted: "#breaking just leaked - Cory Booker’s foreign policy debate prep notes," and below it was a map of heavily African-American Newark. Scrawled over the map in different places was, "West Africa, Guyana, Portugal, Brazil," apparently meant to represent the city's various neighborhoods.
Lonegan, who later called the tweet "childish," ordered it removed immediately. He has since received criticism not just over the tweet, but of how he has handled the situation.
Gov. Chris Christie has said he would have fired the staffer for showing "a complete lack of judgment."
Lonegan has called the incident an exercise in political correctness, saying his detractors will use "every excuse to pull the race card."
Both men gave an indication on how the next phase of this Senate election may play out between the two. Not surprisingly, the two visions were not similar.
"I'm going to take this campaign directly to Mayor Booker," Lonegan said. "This is going to be one of the most in-your-face campaigns you've ever seen."
Booker was more circumspect.
He never mentioned him by name, but Booker said Lonegan was a person with strong beliefs and stronger rhetoric."
"Please know this about me: I will match his negative attacks with positive vision," Booker said. "If he puts up his fists, I'm going to extend a hand. He wants to be a flamethrower, I want to be a bridge builder."
But Booker also said he there were lines that could not be crossed in the campaign.
"I cut my teeth right here in Newark," he said. "So I'm telling you right now in this campaign, if he demeans a woman's equality, I will affirm it. If he seeks to regulate our gay brothers and sisters to second–class citizenship, I will elevate them and everyone."
At the top of his speech, Booker paid respect to Frank Lautenberg, calling him one of New Jersey's "greatest champions."
"We are a better state and we are a better America because of Senator Frank Lautenberg," Booker said.
He also praised each of his competitors in the primary race for their public service.
It was unknown Tuesday whether Pallone and Oliver will get behind a Booker candidacy, but Holt said he would support the mayor.
"I just spoke with Cory Booker, who is likely to be New Jersey's state senator and told him that I will help to make that happen in November," Holt said.