TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Cory Booker brushed off three experienced opponents in a victory in New Jersey’s special Democratic U.S. Senate primary, setting up a campaign of deep contrasts with Steve Lonegan, who won the Republican nomination.
The two winners Tuesday will face off in an Oct. 16 special election called by Gov. Chris Christie to fill the last 15 months of the seat previously held by Frank Lautenberg, who died at 89 in June.
Lonegan, former mayor of Bogota, is trying to buck history and become the first Republican elected to represent New Jersey in the Senate in 41 years. Booker, mayor of Newark, is trying to make history as the state’s first black senator.
Booker promised to disregard old political rules and focus on finding common ground. Lonegan, who had harsh words for Booker as a celebrity who rubs elbows with “elites” in Hollywood, said that Democrats like Booker need to be stopped so the government does not deprive citizens of individual liberty.
Booker, 44, a rare New Jersey politician who was well known statewide before seeking statewide office, easily defeated U.S. Reps. Rush Holt and Frank Pallone — who both did well only in and near their districts — and state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. Despite facing experienced competition, he received around three-fifths of the votes.
A prolific social media user, Booker is a friend of celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Eva Longoria, both of whom made campaign appearances.
He has become known through his story: He grew up in a well-off northern New Jersey suburb as the son of IBM executives, played football at Stanford, was a Rhodes Scholar and went to law school at Yale before moving into one of the toughest Newark neighborhoods and launching a career in public service.
As mayor of a city known for crime, corruption and poverty, he’s courted hundreds of millions from philanthropists, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
In his acceptance speech Tuesday night in Newark, he talked about not following political convention and trying to find common ground with adversaries, but also about some core liberal beliefs: raising the minimum wage, rewriting the tax code, protecting Social Security and Medicare and securing equal pay for women and the right to marry for gays.
“It’s a campaign that seeks to give testimony to the truth that the lines that divide us are insignificant compared to the ties that bind us,” he said.
Lonegan, 57, who also grew up in suburban Bergen County and played college football, served three terms as mayor of the small community of Bogota and then became the New Jersey director for the anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity, wasted no time Tuesday going after Booker’s approach and his celebrity, dismissing him as the candidate “anointed by Hollywood” and supported by “Silicon Valley moguls.”
“It’s going to look like a conservative versus a far-left liberal who’s going to paint a picture of a utopia where government can meet all of our needs,” Lonegan said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I think government is a problem.”
Lonegan, who opposes gay marriage, abortion rights and President Barack Obama’s health insurance overhaul, and generally wants to scale back the role of government, scoffed when told of Booker’s plan to match Lonegan’s “negative attacks with positive visions.”
“Maybe he can send out tweets from the Hundred Acre forest,” he said, referring to the setting for the Winnie the Pooh books.
During the primary campaign, Lonegan held news conferences to blast Booker on proposals for minimum wage increases, ties to a tech start-up and crime in Newark.
Lonegan received about 80 percent of the vote in a Republican primary where the only other candidate was a political newcomer, physician Alieta Eck.
While Booker is a close ally of Christie on Newark issues, the Republican governor said this week that he “fully anticipates” endorsing the winner of the Republican primary.