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Politics

Cory Booker's Awkward Senate Dance

Newark's mayor is learning about Jersey-style politics the hard way.

((AP Photo/Lynne Sladky))

photo of Elahe Izadi
January 15, 2013

If Cory Booker was hoping to ease his way into a Senate campaign — making leisurely appearances on MSNBC cable chat shows and firing out congratulatory retweets — he’s quickly learning the unpleasant reality of Jersey-style politics.

The Newark, N.J., mayor, who announced his intentions last month via a Web video and opened his official campaign account last week, is now trying to quiet down the hubbub around his run, given that Sen. Frank Lautenberg shows no signs of retiring.

His posturing has ruffled party feathers. One Lautenberg aide told Politicker NJ that Booker is "acting as an unnecessary distraction" and called him "a self-promoter instead of a real Democrat or a team player." On Blue Jersey, Democratic state Sen. Loretta Weinberg praised Booker’s ability to communicate with the public but urged him to “stop the U.S. Senate distraction, give Senator Lautenberg the time to concentrate on getting us federal Sandy help and the respect of making a decision about his reelection in his own time.”

 

Another senior Lautenberg aide anonymously attacked Booker in an interview with Politico, calling him “self-absorbed” and “disrespectful.”

Booker’s response? When pressed Monday night while on MSNBC’s The Last Word, he said that his prospective Senate run “really is not an issue right now.”

“This is 18 months away; it’s a long time. All of New Jersey, we should not be talking about Senate races,” he said. “We have two good senators who are doing a great job for us, fighting the good fight on critical issues, from [gun laws] to Sandy aid, things New Jersey really needs. We don’t need the distraction of a Senate race. It’s not even an election year.”

Take note: Booker, a national Democratic star, is backing down to an 88-year-old senator who was expected to retire at the end of his term. That’s what happens in Jersey politics — run afoul of the party machine at your own risk.

When Booker first announced his intentions, he showed deference to Lautenberg and chose his words carefully, saying, “I look forward to consulting with Senator Frank Lautenberg. It would be a privilege and an honor to continue his legacy of service."

But “Cory Booker for Senate” filed with the Federal Election Commission last week, and Booker has made the rounds on various national media outlets since. Plus, there’s his active Twitter account that he has used to direct supporters to CoryBooker.com.

Lautenberg, who turns 89 next week, has shown no signs of retiring. But if he does retire, Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone may also run for the Senate seat. That could make for an interesting matchup. Booker, who has national star power, operates largely outside of the state political infrastructure, while Pallone works firmly within it.

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