2013 started with Newark Mayor Cory Booker eyeing a run for the U.S. Senate in 2014 and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) deciding not to run for reelection. It looked pretty cut and dry: Booker would be the favorite in 2014 and Lautenberg would put in two more years of fighting for New Jersey and the country on issues like gun violence reform. However, June started off with a major surprise: the death of Senator Lautenberg. Not only did his death leave a void in the U.S. Senate and New Jersey’s political arena, but would escalate the U.S. Senate race in the state by about a year. It would quickly lead to speculation and a field of emerging candidates.
Even before his death the state of the next U.S. Senate was heating up as potential candidates began to think about filling Lautenberg’s soon-to-be vacant seat. Not terribly different than some Democratic power struggles that have become typical within the state regarding Democratic leadership roles in the State Legislature and power grabs, conversation quickly became heated not long after Lautenberg announced his retirement as names started to be thrown out there. Naturally, Booker would be a top tier candidate based on his already announced intentions to run. However, both Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ6) and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34) have also had their eye on the U.S. Senate especially Pallone who has almost been waiting for a moment like this and the two would quickly draw a line in the sand regarding the “juggernaut” named Booker and their own desires.
“Mayor Booker will have to compete for the support of the citizens of New Jersey. It has nothing to do with how many Twitter followers you have and it has nothing to do with how many Facebook friends you have.”
She also mentioned earlier in the year,
“I am very concerned about the lack of women in our congressional delegation. And I don’t feel that an assumption should be made that because Cory has national celebrity that national celebrity translates into who should be our next U.S. Senator.”
Oliver is hinting at the fact that it has been over a decade since a woman has been part of the New Jersey delegation in the U.S. Congress.
While Pallone would state,
“I’ve always been interested in the Senate and I’m going to continue to explore that.”
As Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University, would outline;
“I still think that it’s wide open now. Whether Booker manages to get the party’s support remains to be seen.”
And speaking of wide open, Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ12) would too add his name by expressing;
“I’ve made no secret in previous years that I would consider the Senate at the right time.”
Also; Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3), who passed on a run for governor, and Congressman Rob Andrews (D-NJ1), who challenged Lautenberg in 2008 in a Democratic primary, were potential contenders.
A real wildcard name was also thrown into the mix: former congressman and son of the late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy who had moved to the state from Rhode Island where he served in Congress from 1995 to 2011. However, he would squash any senatorial conversations fairly quickly and would put his support behind Pallone in an open race.
Kennedy would voice,
“I’m not in it right now but as I said if in the future sometime I think I could better serve this cause by throwing my hat back in the political ring down the road I know how to run elections and I know how to win elections. Frank Pallone is not only a good friend, he was a great colleague and he fights for the kinds of things my family has fought for. I look forward to going out there and telling that story and letting people know how hard Frank has fought for issues that matter to people with a social conscience.”
State Senator Ronald Rice (D-28) too would take his name out of any U.S. Senate talks and would mention a couple choices he would prefer to be elected while taking a jab at Booker; something that has occurred at times during Booker’s time as mayor and his consistent criticism of him might stem from his loss to him in 2006.
“It’s not my interest to run for the U.S. Senate. My mission is here in the state. I’m a 7-day, 24-hour person, a grass-roots person. I’m a local guy, a boots on the ground guy. I do believe there are others out there who would be good. She (Oliver) would make a good candidate for a lot of different reasons. She’s grown over the years. I think Dick Codey would make a good senator. There are others in the Legislature but to date they have not expressed interest. (Frank) Pallone is a reasonable person who understands the role of senator. The Booker thing is hedge fund and Wall Street. That’s what Booker was here for from the beginning. Booker is certainly not a mayor, but he’s not a senator either.”
Andrews as well would quiet any talk around his name by stating,
“I am totally focused on my responsibilities to help my constituents and my country in the House, particularly with my new leadership role in the Democratic caucus. I will not be a candidate for the US Senate seat.”
Once there was a need for a U.S. Senate race in 2013, there was a small window for candidates to declare and gather the necessary petitions before the deadline for the August 13th primary.
It was not exactly how he pictured things unfolding, but Booker would quickly announce his intentions to seek his party’s nomination. He will not have over a year to build up finances and electoral steam, but his growing name in recent years and record in Newark will be advantages in this short spirit type of race.
As Booker would elaborate in his announcement speech,
“I’m here to officially announce to be New Jersey’s next United State senator. I am here because I believe people who care can find solutions to even the most difficult problems. I am here because, when we work together, I know from experience that there is no problem we can’t solve. I am here today because I know who we are and what we are capable of doing together for New Jersey and for this nation. Despite the challenges, there is something we know in our gut, that we as a people are bigger than any of our challenges. There is nothing we can’t do together. It’s a question of do we have the collective will.”
With Booker in the race; Pallone, Holt, and Oliver were all still in the mix on the Democratic side and were slowly announcing their own intentions to run as almost expected.
Conservative activist and former mayor of Bogota Steve Lonegan would emerge as the prime candidate on the Republican side out the gate and he would quickly pick up the endorsements of state Senator Michael Doherty (R-23) and Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-25), two of the more conservative members in the State Legislature.
Lonegan would also nab a fairly high profile endorsement in the state with Congressman Leonard Lance (R-NJ7) voicing,
“In 2004 when I sued then-Governor Jim McGreevey for borrowing state money without voter approval, one individual stood with me on behalf of New Jersey’s taxpayers: Mayor Steve Lonegan. Nearly a decade later I stand with Steve Lonegan in support of his candidacy to the United States Senate. Mayor Lonegan will work with me to bring much-needed fiscal responsibility to Washington. He has my full endorsement.”
Piscataway medical doctor Alieta Eck would also throw her name into the ring as a citizen legislator if elected. She too would bring a strong conservative tone to the Republican side. Former U.S. Senate candidates state Senators Tom Kean Jr. (R-21) and Joseph Kyrillos (R-13) as well as Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-21) were in the conversation with many question marks around the likelihood they would run.
Ben Dworkin, the Director of the Rider Institute for New Jersey Politics, would frame the early makings of the U.S. Senate race as such:
“I don’t think it’s necessarily clear that it’s Cory Booker (to be the Democratic nominee). I think the governor assumed it was going to be Cory Booker. But again, low turnout, the middle of August — Booker has distinct advantages, but not as many as he would have in 2014.”
Despite a tougher schedule and smaller window to reach out to voters, Booker would respond to such claims by exclaiming;
“I plan to go all over the state, north to south, engage every possible voter I can, direct contact, on the phone, whatever it takes. That wouldn’t have changed if the election was this coming November. It wouldn’t have changed in 2014. That’s the way we do things.”
Former New Jersey U.S. Senator Bill Bradley would emerge as an early ally for the man who has looked up to Bradley. Bradley, who ran for president in 2000, would express about Booker;
“I believe the right kind of politics allows us to see something bigger than ourselves. It allows politicians to appeal to our better nature. And it allows citizens to have faith in their neighbors, in people, in humankind. The reason I am here today is because I believe Cory Booker embodies that kind of politics and is that kind of leader.”
In a fashion similar to racing to a finish line, each candidate collected and handed their minimum of 1,000 signatures to the Division of Elections to officially become a candidate for U.S. Senate by the 4pm deadline on June 10th. When the proverbially clock expired, there were six candidates on a collision course for August 13th. Booker, Pallone, Holt, and Oliver on the Democratic side and Lonegan and Eck on the Republican side.
With the candidates race to declare by the deadline over, the aspect of the August primary and October general election became a hot topic of conversation between Governor Christie and Democrats. Also, especially on the Democratic side, the race was about to start to shake out with lines being drawn and a higher urgency for reaching out to voters with the short time frame before the primary.