Booker managed to run as a middle-of-the-road Democrat without paying a price in the Democratic primary because his two chief rivals, Pallone and Holt, boasted virtually indistinguishable liberal voting records, and their equally consistent support for organized labor led the state’s major public employee unions to sit out the race, even though they intensely dislike Booker.
“If either Pallone or Holt had been the only one running -- and it didn’t matter which one did -- the NJEA [New Jersey Education Association], CWA [Communications Workers of America] and the other unions might have gotten in, and poured money and volunteers into a campaign against Booker,” Murray said. “It would still have been uphill, but the unions would have taken their shot, and it would certainly have made it a closer race.”
With the unions sitting out the race, Pallone and Holt, neither of whom could come close to Booker in name recognition, were reduced to regional candidates, with Pallone carrying his home county of Monmouth and matching up closely with Booker in Middlesex and Ocean, and Holt carrying his home county of Mercer as well as nearby Hunterdon. Oliver’s 4 percent showing was not surprising given her lack of money and organizational support from her home county of Essex.
Booker’s biggest Achilles heel heading into the Democratic primary was his open support for such Christie-backed initiatives as school vouchers, charter schools, and merit pay for teachers, as well as for the controversial pension and health benefits law pushed through by Christie and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester).
But Booker deftly did his best to turn that potential vulnerability into a strength by waging a post-partisan campaign based upon the assertion that he could bring to Washington’s partisan gridlock a new spirit of compromise and bipartisanship that he learned how to make work in New Jersey.
It is a theme very similar to Christie’s heavily covered national policy speeches touting his bipartisan successes in New Jersey, and parts of Booker’s acceptance speech yesterday could just as easily have been delivered by Christie.
Decrying the partisanship and hopelessness in Washington, Booker declared , “If you make me your senator, New Jersey, I will be focused on finding common ground. The direction I will be most concerned with will not be right or left, but going forward.”
Vowing not to be bound by convention, Booker asserted, “If you want somebody to go to Washington who’s going to play by the same old rules, find somebody else . . . I won’t care about red or blue, I won’t care about an insider’s game, I will care about you.”