Cory Booker Wins N.J. Primary, Appears Headed to the Senate

Newark Mayor Cory Booker smiles during a news conference announcing Cami Anderson as chief of the state-run Newark Public School system, Wednesday, May 4, 2011 in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)  
National Journal
Mike Magner
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Mike Magner
Aug. 13, 2013, 4:59 p.m.

Ne­wark May­or Cory Book­er moved a step closer to Sen­ate star­dom Tues­day with a celebrity-powered win over three oth­er New Jer­sey Demo­crats seek­ing to fill the seat of the late Sen. Frank Lauten­berg.

With only 7 per­cent of the vote coun­ted in the state’s Demo­crat­ic primary, Book­er already had more than twice as many votes as his closest com­pet­it­or, 13-term Rep. Frank Pal­lone, and the As­so­ci­ated Press de­clared Book­er the win­ner. Book­er earned the right to take on Re­pub­lic­an Steve Loneg­an in a spe­cial Sen­ate elec­tion set for Oct. 16. Loneg­an, a former may­or of Bogota, N.J., trounced phys­i­cian Ali­eta Eck in the GOP primary Tues­day.

Book­er, de­scribed by the pop­u­lar web­site Vice.com as “one of the hippest, most tech-savvy politi­cians in the coun­try,” will be heav­ily favored to take the place of Lauten­berg, who died June 3 at age 89 with 19 months left in his fifth Sen­ate term.

Book­er’s de­cis­ive primary win over Pal­lone, Rep. Rush Holt, and state As­sembly Speak­er Sheila Oliv­er came as many New Jer­sey res­id­ents were va­ca­tion­ing at the shore and think­ing more about sun­screen than polit­ics. Those stuck at home were treated to a race that fea­tured stump speeches for Book­er by Des­per­ate House­wives star Eva Lon­gor­ia and a glitzy fun­draiser hos­ted by Oprah Win­frey, who has dubbed Book­er “the rock star may­or.”

Book­er, 44, is such an im­pos­ing polit­ic­al fig­ure that New Jer­sey’s Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Chris Christie, a rising star in his own party, sched­uled the spe­cial Sen­ate elec­tion for Oc­to­ber, rather than have it co­in­cide with the gubernat­ori­al elec­tion in Novem­ber, to avoid be­ing on the same bal­lot with the pop­u­lar Ne­wark may­or.

Since first win­ning the may­or’s of­fice in 2006, Book­er has gained a na­tion­al repu­ta­tion as a Demo­crat­ic su­per­star. He is cred­ited with bring­ing $1 bil­lion worth of busi­ness de­vel­op­ment to Ne­wark and per­suaded Face­book founder Mark Zuck­er­berg to donate $100 mil­lion to the city’s schools. On the side, Book­er has res­cued a wo­man from a burn­ing build­ing, chased down a mug­ger near City Hall, housed vic­tims of Hur­ricane Sandy in his res­id­ence, and built a Twit­ter fol­low­ing big­ger than an­oth­er fam­ous son of New Jer­sey, rock star Bruce Spring­steen.

Book­er’s vic­tory in Tues­day’s primary was a crush­ing blow for Pal­lone, who has been eye­ing the Sen­ate for years. He was a can­did­ate for the seat va­cated by Demo­crat­ic Sen. Jon Corz­ine in 2006 be­fore bow­ing out in fa­vor of ap­poin­ted Sen. Robert Men­en­dez; this year, an­ti­cip­at­ing that Lauten­berg would not seek reelec­tion next year, Pal­lone had raised $4 mil­lion by the spring for a 2014 Sen­ate race. That re­mains a pos­sib­il­ity, of course, but it ap­pears Pal­lone would have to face Book­er again — this time as an in­cum­bent — if both de­cide to run for a full term in the Sen­ate next year.

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