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Candidate Booker’s Media Star Threatens to Eclipse Liberal Rivals

Both Pallone and Holt have emphasized that they know how Washington works, and that they already know many U.S. senators from working with them in the House, while Oliver points to her experience leading an often-fractious Democratic Assembly caucus in Trenton – a level of legislative background that Booker lacks.

All three have stressed their commitment to be the kind of hard-working, New Jersey-focused senator that Lautenberg was, and have criticized Booker for spending 20 percent of his time out-of-state traveling to speaking engagements, meetings with CEO’s and celebrities, and fund-raising events -- time that they say he should have spent in Newark working to solve the persistent problems of New Jersey’s largest city.

However, the most striking difference between Booker and the two congressmen he is running against, Holt and Pallone, is over what the role of a U.S. senator should be in an era of virtually unparalleled political partisanship.

Pallone and Holt have spent the last 25 years and 15 years, respectively, in a U.S. House of Representatives where party-line votes are increasingly the norm, and where it takes a natural disaster on the order of superstorm Sandy to bring together even Demcratic and Republican congressmen from the same state to work together on a sustained basis.

That was the way the New Jersey Legislature was going until Christie and Republican legislators teamed up with Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Oliver, with the open backing of Democratic powerbrokers like George Norcross and DiVincenzo -- and Booker -- in an evolving series of bipartisan alignments to forge a new political center in New Jersey.

The “UniGovernment,” as Record columnist Charlie Stile dubbed the new ruling bipartisan coalition, pushed through legislation that required public employees to pay more for their pensions and health benefits and suspended collective bargaining on health benefits for four years; changed tenure laws for teachers, expanded charter schools and championed school vouchers; merged the state’s medical schools into Rutgers University; replaced the Camden city police with a county force; and weakened binding arbitration for police and firefighters That’s the type of accomplishment -- and bipartisanship -- that Booker wants to bring to Washington, and it would make him a likely candidate to play a leading role in the ad hoc “Gang of Six” or “Gang of Eight” working groups that spring up in the Senate and bring together a handful of Democrats and Republicans to try to hammer out a bipartisan consensus on an important issue, Weingart noted.

Pallone and Holt, meanwhile, are considered not only two of the most reliably liberal Democrats in Congress, but also boast strong pro-labor voting records, with Pallone earning an average rating of 98 percent from the AFL-CIO and Holt coming in at 95 percent.

“They are two of labor’s best friends in Congress,” Sherryl Gordon, the executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 1, said at her council’s summer conference last month in a room filled with Pallone and Holt posters, but not a single sign for Booker or Oliver.

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