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Booker leads Lonegan by a margin of 53 to 41 points, according to the most recent Quinnipiac poll taken between Oct. 5 and Oct. 7. They are vying to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg’s death in June.
The two candidates have sought to distinguish their platforms since the Aug. 13 primary, when Booker easily defeated Rep. Rush Holt, Rep. Frank Pallone and New Jersey Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver to win the Democratic nomination, and Lonegan defeated Alieta Eck to win the Republican nomination.
Booker and Lonegan have sought support for a variety of constituencies in the state, including students and residents in the Princeton areas.
Neither Booker nor Lonegan responded to requests for comment for this article.
Economic issues a top priority
Booker and Lonegan cite economic issues as a top priority.
In a Sept. 15 interview with The Daily Princetonian, Booker said that the first thing on his agenda if elected to the Senate would be the economy.
“We’re still dealing with the ravages of this economy, and while the economy’s doing pretty good, real wages are declining or stagnating,” Booker said. “We have a lot of places where there’s concentrated poverty, from Cumberland County to Patterson, Passaic, and so I just really want to deal with sort of the economic fairness and justice issues, at a time where, as a United States government, we’re stopping investment in those things.”
Lonegan emphasized his own economic background as a reason he’d make the best senator for New Jersey in a Sept. 12 interview with the ‘Prince.’
“I have studied, learned, and I understand the fundamental principles of free market economic policies, and that’s all driven by individual liberty,” Lonegan said. “That’s privacy, that’s property rights, that’s the ability of every American to be successful and keep the fruits of their labor, and be, you know, free of the strangleholds of big government.”
Lonegan contrasted himself with Booker, whom he called a “devotee, advocate and huge supporter of big government.” Lonegan also said that his campaign was also focused on the “NSA abuse of power” and the “failures of Obamacare.”
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has provoked a storm of controversy in Washington since its passage in 2010, becoming the focal point of the congressional impasse that led to the ongoing government shutdown.
Booker also spoke about the government shutdown at his Oct. 2 “Run with Cory” event in Princeton.
“As we look down south right now in D.C., we see a lot of things going wrong with our country,” Booker told a crowd at Palmer Square. “It has nothing to do with the right or left. It really has to do with this idea that[,] are we going to work together as a people to be stronger and better[?]”
A tighter race than expected
Though Booker remains the favorite to win the special election, his lead has narrowed in the two months since the Democratic and Republican primaries.
Soon after the Aug. 13 primary, Booker’s leads were 28 points and 35 points in polls taken by Fairleigh Dickinson between Aug. 21 and Aug. 27 and Rutgers-Eagleton between Sept. 3 and Sept. 9, respectively. But an Oct. 7 Quinnipiac poll showed Booker leading Lonegan by only 12 points.
Politics professor Nolan McCarty said he didn’t expect Booker’s lead to be narrowed drastically in the days leading up to the election.
“I’m a little surprised at this point that there still is a campaign,” McCarty said. “I think most people thought that Mayor Booker was going to be so far ahead at this point that there wouldn’t be much going on, but the fact that, with a short time to go, Steve Lonegan is only 12 points behind is quite surprising.”
McCarty explained that he thought that Booker “[has] not been a very good candidate, or a very active candidate,” while Lonegan “made a lot of progress” by drawing attention to Booker’s fundraising efforts in California. This tactic “underscore[s] the idea that Mayor Booker’s ambitions are bigger, probably, than being the Senator from New Jersey. And that’s probably going to play against him,” he said.
Another factor that McCarty said could help Lonegan is low turnout, since Republicans generally turn out to vote at a higher rate than Democrats. McCarty expects turnout to be low because the election is an off-season special election, and this is the single race on the ballot.
However, McCarty said he predicts Booker will win because of his popularity, his cross-over appeal and New Jersey’s status as a “very Democratic state.”
“All things considered, it was Booker’s race to lose,” McCarty said. “He won’t lose it. [But] it’s not going to be this sort of resounding victory that will propel him in his other ambitions.”
The campaign goes local
Both Booker and Lonegan have made campaign stops in municipalities throughout New Jersey. The former has visited Princeton to drum up support and donations numerous times since June, with at least two stops in the last month.
At an Oct. 2 “Run with Cory” event, Booker ran 1.5 miles with students and Princeton residents and treated them to Thomas Sweet Ice Cream at its conclusion. During the run, students and residents spoke to Booker about their political concerns and took running “selfies.”
“I support Cory Booker’s education policies because he is at the forefront of how we should be changing our schools,” Caroline Tucker ’17 told the ‘Prince’ during the event.
Will Mantell ’14, the president of College Democrats, said in a Sept. 15 interview that his organization strongly supports Booker’s candidacy.
“Ultimately, he is espousing the policies that we believe in,” Mantell said, “versus Steve Lonegan, who is an ultra-conservative candidate, who, you know, has basically approached the race with this sort of ‘cut, cut, cut’ mentality that is paralyzing the Congress right now.”
Since then, the College Democrats have participated in a number of activities on Booker’s behalf, which have included participating in phone banks, attending events and publicizing Booker’s “Run with Cory” event, Mantell said in an Oct. 13 interview.
Booker also made a stop in Princeton on Sept. 15, when he spoke and took photos with constituents on Nassau Street, met with Rep. Rush Holt at Small World Coffee and visited the Pins and Needles store on Chambers Street.
College Republicans President David Will ’14 did not respond to request for comment.