HOBOKEN, N.J. (AP) — Cory Booker on Wednesday said the race for U.S. Senate in New Jersey will offer voters a stark choice, because his rival is on the “far margin of the Republican Party.”
Booker, who has built a national profile as Newark’s mayor, easily won the Democratic nomination Tuesday over three experienced opponents, including two longtime U.S. representatives who were unable to make a dent in his popularity during a short campaign. He pulled in about 60 percent of the vote.
His opponent is Steve Lonegan, a former small-town mayor who has also led the New Jersey chapter of the anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity. He faced opposition from a political unknown for the GOP nomination.
A special Senate election is set for Oct. 16 to fill out the remaining 15 months of the term of the late Frank Lautenberg, who died in June.
“It’s going to be a very stark choice for voters,” Booker said outside the Hoboken train station, where he greeted commuters and thanked supporters after just a few hours’ sleep. “I think you’re going to see some very interesting supporters from the Republican Party coming, because Steve Lonegan is on the far margin of the Republican Party.”
The two candidates differ on a host of issues, from gay marriage and abortion rights to health care and government investment in the nation’s infrastructure.
“At the end of the day this is a very clear choice for voters,” Booker said.
Lonegan 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.
In his victory speech, Booker promised to disregard old political rules and focus on finding common ground.
Lonegan told his supporters Tuesday night that Democrats like Booker need to be stopped so the government does not deprive citizens of individual liberty.
He attacked Booker as a celebrity politician who had been “anointed by Hollywood” and supported by “Silicon Valley moguls.” Oprah Winfrey and Eva Longoria made campaign appearances for him.
Booker, a rare New Jersey politician who was well known statewide before seeking statewide office, 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.
A prolific social media user, the 44-year-old Booker 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.
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 Americans for Prosperity.
“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 opposes gay marriage, abortion rights and President Barack Obama’s health insurance overhaul, and generally wants to scale back the role of government.