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Candidate Booker’s Media Star Threatens to Eclipse Liberal Rivals

Lonegan’s campaign blundered badly last week when one of his staffers sent out a racist tweet labeling neighborhoods in Booker’s Newark with the names of African, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and South American nations. The tweet was quickly deleted, but Eck and the Independence Tea Party joined Democrats in attacking Lonegan for not firing the offending staffer.

Nevertheless, Lonegan remains confident of victory tomorrow, invoking the Alamo in looking ahead to “a real line-in-the-sand election,” a “mano a mano” battle he clearly expects to wage against Booker, whom he has already made the target of his campaign ads. Lonegan may want to rethink his use of an Alamo analogy: The latest Quinnipiac Poll shows him trailing the Newark mayor by 35 points.

This fall’s Senate debates promise to mirror the issue-oriented seriousness of the 1978 Bradley-Bell debates, just as this Democratic Senate campaign carries echoes of the Bradley-Lautenberg rivalry, with Booker in the Bradley role.

Bradley, a Booker mentor, was New Jersey’s “national senator,” working with Republican President Reagan to pass a major tax reform, appearing on the Sunday morning TV talk shows, and fending off questions every four years about when he would be running for president, which he finally did unsuccessfully in 2000.

Lautenberg resented Bradley’s fame and intentionally cast himself as “the Senator for New Jersey,” specializing in the transportation and environmental policy issues that were critical to the state, portraying himself as the “work horse” rather than the “show horse” – an analogy that his son, Josh Lautenberg, has used in campaigning for Pallone and denouncing Booker.

It is Lautenberg’s son and Oliver who have been most vitriolic in their attacks on Booker and his record, and in both cases, it is not only political, but personal. Both feel Booker is in too much of a hurry.

The Lautenberg family feels Booker was being disrespectful to the late senator by declaring his candidacy before the proud Lautenberg was ready to retire, and Oliver feels Booker was being disrespectful to her and other state political leaders who have paid their dues for decades by jumping to the head of the line, assuming that the Senate nomination was his due – a criticism that Bradley’s 1978 Democratic primary foes leveled against him.

“Booker would start his Senate career as a celebrity like Bill Bradley, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama did, and he would have to figure out how to fit that celebrity into the life of a senator,” Weingart said. “Hillary Clinton worked to win the respect of her colleagues by doing the hard behind-the-scenes work, but Obama never stuck around long enough.

“It takes time to learn the rules of the Senate and to really get to know your colleagues so you can find common ground, and that takes a lot of work -- and you don’t accomplish that by appearing on TV shows and doing media interviews,” he said.

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