With Cory Booker piling up a landslide victory in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate last night, New Jersey’s Democratic leaders already were looking ahead -- not to Booker’s October 16 special election contest with Republican conservative Steve Lonegan, which they assume he will win, but to what Booker could do to help the rest of the Democratic ticket 20 days later in the regular November election.
“Cory’s race is going to create great excitement and great momentum for Democrats heading into November,” Sen. Raymond Lesniak (R-Union) said after Booker piled up 59 percent of the vote in trouncing an unusually high-profile field made up of Rep. Frank Pallone, who finished second with 20 percent, Rep. Rush Holt, who got 17 percent, and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex), who polled 4 percent.
“Cory’s going to mobilize a lot of new voters, and it will be very helpful to [Democratic gubernatorial candidate] Barbara Buono’s operation to be able to fold Booker’s field operation into her’s. Obviously, it would have been more helpful to have Cory at the top of the Democratic ticket in November, but Gov. Christie wanted no part of that, so he went out and spent $24 million to hold two special Senate elections, which is why we’re here tonight,” Lesniak said, surveying the crowd outside Newark’s Prudential Center. “I still say he would have beaten Christie if he had run for governor instead.”
Booker showed a fund-raising prowess more than equal to Christie’s in raising more than $7 million in just seven weeks after the death of U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) led the governor to call the special Senate election.
The get-out-the-vote operation Booker modeled after President Barack Obama’s field operation may have been partly responsible for pushing up Democratic turnout to 360,000 yesterday -- much higher than most pollsters and political experts predicted for a first-ever mid-August primary.
Booker’s fundraising advantage translated into an overwhelming advantage over his Democratic rivals in TV and radio advertising, and his celebrity and high name recognition gave him a decided edge in the two-month primary season -- an advantage he will carry into his two-month general election race against the fiery Lonegan, the outspoken conservative activist who piled up 80 percent of the vote in defeating Dr. Alieta Eck in the GOP primary yesterday.
Lonegan, who raised just $222,000 in the first seven weeks of his campaign, was not dismayed by the prospect of running against Booker and his money machine, even though he will most likely get little more than an endorsement from Christie.