Newark Mayor Cory Booker was expected to beat his Tea Party-backed opponent, Steven Lonegan, handily in next week’s New Jersey Senate election, but Lonegan’s last minute framing of Booker as an Obama-backed liberal has been more successful than expected, putting the two closer together in the polls than they have ever been.
While Booker still leads the race 53 percent to Lonegan’s 40 percent, this is down from the 16-point edge Booker saw in June and August.
“What we’ve learned in this campaign is that Cory Booker cannot, in fact, walk on water. He should have had an easy win — he had name recognition that no other New Jersey politician had,” said Patrick Murray, director of the New Jersey-based Monmouth University poll. “The fact that this is only a 12-13 point race is somewhat of a shock to many.”
Booker will almost certainly still win the election, but he won’t emerge untarnished.
Lonegan, who has an interesting history in New Jersey politics and has had to answer for many of his own embarrassing gaffes, has pegged Booker as a wannabe celebrity endorsed by Hollywood and Barack Obama — an image that resonates with many New Jersey voters who have long been concerned that Booker’s goals are bigger than New Jersey.
“My opponent, Cory Booker, was anointed by Hollywood; he was anointed by Oprah. California doesn’t need a third senator,” Lonegan said Saturday at a rally where he brought in Sarah Palin as a supporter.
“Something big is happening here; it’s called momentum,” Palin told the crowd of around 4,000. “The country knows it. The media even knows it, and that’s why they’re getting all wee-wee’d up against Steve!”
Lonegan has also begun to use incredibly negative language to describe Booker and Newark, the city Booker governs, to mixed results.
“You may not be able to swim in [Passaic River], I think, probably because of all the bodies floating around from shootings in [Newark],” said Lonegan at a public debate last Wednesday, provoking an audible negative reaction from the audience at Rowan University.
“Oh my god, oh my god,” said Booker in response. “This is what he thinks of our cities — that there are bodies floating in city. How insulting is that to the people of the city and others working together? This is insulting.”
Booker has been forced to retaliate using negative advertising. The New Jersey Democratic Party recently released an ad featuring New Jersey residents, including several children, reading quotes by Lonegan.
“I’ll be as callous and uncaring as you can imagine,” one says, reading from a script of Lonegan quotes. “I’d hate to see you get cancer but that’s your problem, not mine.”
While Lonegan’s graphic imagery may be pushing the numbers closer together, all indications are the Booker will still be victorious. In addition to his hefty 12 point lead in the polls, Booker currently has an 8-to-1 fundraising lead over Lonegan, pulling in $11.2 million compared to Steve Lonegan’s $1.35 million, according to The Star-Ledger.
Compare their ads below:
Booker Campaign Ad
Lonegan campaign ad