Newark Mayor Cory Booker won the Democratic nomination in Tuesday’s party primaries for New Jersey senator, and he becomes the heavy favorite to win the Oct. 16 special election for the seat formerly held by Frank Lautenberg, who died in office in June.
Booker will face off against Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, who won the Republican nomination.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Booker won 59 percent of the Democratic vote. He defeated fellow Democratic contenders Rep. Frank Pallone, of New Jersey’s sixth district, who received 19.7 percent of the vote, and Rush Holt, representative for New Jersey’s 12th district — which includes the University — who won 17 percent. State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver won 4.3 percent.
Meanwhile, Lonegan surpassed fellow Republican candidate Alieta Eck, a physician and former president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, by a margin of 79.9 percent to 20.1 percent.
These results are in line with polls published by Quinnipiac University earlier this month, which showed Booker with 54 percent of Democratic support and Lonegan with 62 percent of Republican support in July.
Booker and Lonegan were each the leader in fundraising in their respective races. Booker raised over $2.1 million — almost six times as much as his nearest competitor, Holt — between July 1 and July 24, according to pre-primary filings with the Federal Election Commission. According to his pre-primary filings, Lonegan raised almost $130,000 during the same period, more than seven times what Eck raised during that period.
A tough 10 weeks
The relatively short time between Lautenberg’s death 10 weeks ago and Tuesday’s primary made for a challenging campaign, candidates said.
“You have to do in two months what you can normally do in two years,” Holt, the former assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, told The Daily Princetonian before the primary. “I love to do door-to-door campaigning at county fairs and supermarket parking lots, but it has been challenging with only six weeks and 9 million people to reach.”
In his remarks to supporters regarding the primary results, Holt said he and his staff had worked hard.
“We organized and motivated many hundreds of volunteers, who placed half a million calls and talked with well over 100,000 citizens. We received financial support from thousands of people,” Holt explained in his prepared remarks. “The staff worked cheerfully, diligently and energetically in the face of cynical pundits and pollsters saying we were wasting our time.”
Another difficulty of the primary campaign was the perceived low turnout among voters.
Wilson School orofessor Nolan McCarty explained to The Daily Princetonian that he believed voter turnout in the primary would be low because of the special date, as well as what he saw as a lack of competition in the primary.
McCarty predicted earlier this week that Booker would win the Democratic primary and then “will probably run in the special general election against a fairly weak Republican opponent and win easily.”
Turnout for today’s primary was very low, not only because of a perceived lack of competition but also due to rainy weather and a special summer date that many vacationing New Jersey residents couldn’t make.
McCarty said that he did not expect the Oct. 16 special election to get a high turnout either.
Gov. Chris Christie could have had the Senate election on the same day as the already-scheduled statewide Nov. 5 election; however, he chose to schedule a special election in which the race for the Senate seat will be the only race that day.
The remaining two
In a campaign that has generally had low energy so far, the candidate who has attracted most of the attention is Booker, who has built up a national reputation with his efforts to curb crime in Newark and personally shovel snow from Newark residents’ driveways.
Booker enthusiastically accepted the Democratic nomination Tuesday night at Championship Plaza in Newark. He advocated a bipartisan, problem-solving approach.
“If I am your United States senator, the direction I will be most concerned with will not be right or left; it will be with going forward,” Booker told supporters. “I won’t care about red or blue; I won’t care about an insider’s game; I will care about you.”
After the race was called, Holt endorsed Booker for the general election.
“I just spoke with Cory Booker, who is likely to be the next senator from New Jersey, to congratulate him and to tell him I intend to help make that happen in October,” Holt told his supporters Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, Lonegan celebrated with his supporters in Secaucus Tuesday night. “We had a phenomenal event tonight,” he said. “I couldn’t feel better about the crowd, the support, the energy.”
Lonegan criticized Booker for his “celebrity status” and connections to the Silicon Valley start-up Waywire, in which Booker has an investment.
“I don’t think the people of New Jersey want a Hollywood glitterati as a U.S. senator,” Lonegan said. “California doesn’t need a third senator. New Jersey needs a senator that will serve the people of New Jersey, and that’s what I intend to do.”
The most recent poll taken by Quinnipiac University shows Booker polling at 54 percent, and Lonegan at 29 percent.