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Cory Booker wins special Senate election in New Jersey

CNN News Wire | 10/17/2013, midnight
Cory Booker is heading to Washington. The 44-year-old two-term Democratic mayor of Newark, New Jersey defeated his Republican opponent, Steve ...
Cory Booker

Cory Booker is heading to Washington.

The 44-year-old two-term Democratic mayor of Newark, New Jersey defeated his Republican opponent, Steve Lonegan, Wednesday in a special U.S. Senate election.

“I’m going down to make the Senate more accessible to all of us. I will bring more voice to the voices too often ignored in our state. I will be dogged and determined, relentless and unfaltering in my sense of service for all of New Jersey,” said Booker from a victory rally at his election headquarters in Newark.

“If you voted for me, I will make you proud. If you didn’t vote for me, I will work every single day to earn your trust. Remember this always: I work for all of New Jersey.”

About 35 miles away in Bridgewater, New Jersey, Lonegan, a businessman and the former mayor of the northern New Jersey town of Bogota, conceded.

“Moments ago I called Senator Booker to congratulate him in his win and as we should, wish him the best in serving the people of the State and the people of this country,” said Lonegan to a crowd of defiant supporters, announcing he would return to the private sector.

“I said to myself, who wants that job anyway?” he joked later.

Booker was the front runner in all the public opinion polls throughout the short campaign to fill the remaining 15 months of the term of the late Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died in June. With his victory, Booker becomes the first African American elected to the U.S. Senate since Barack Obama in 2004.

During the campaign, Booker characterized Lonegan as a far-right, tea party conservative who was too far out of the mainstream for Garden State voters. And Lonegan criticized Booker for what the Republican described as his celebrity status, adding that the nationally recognized Booker is a “Hollywood stand-in” for President Barack Obama.

In the past couple of weeks, the race became a proxy fight over the partial government shutdown, the standoff over raising the nation’s debt ceiling, and the bitter partisan divide over the national health care law.

Low turnout was expected for a contest held on a Wednesday, and that came less than three weeks before the state holds a gubernatorial election.

To help bring Democrats to the polls, Booker’s campaign released a video message Monday from Obama, who urged New Jersey voters to turn out for the Democratic candidate. And Saturday, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a favorite among grassroots conservatives, campaigned with Lonegan at a high profile event organized by a national tea party group.

Soon after Lautenberg’s death, GOP Gov. Chris Christie, who’s up for re-election in November, named fellow Republican and state Attorney General Jeff Chiesa to temporarily fill the Senate seat. That move reduced the Democratic Party’s control of the Senate to 54-46. Booker’s victory brings the Democrats’ majority back to 55-45.

While there were two major candidates in the race, it’s Booker, considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, who got the lion’s share of attention.

He made national headlines for rescuing a neighbor from a fire and for helping his city dig out from a major snowstorm. But his status also opened him to attacks by his critics that he spends far too much time outside of Newark, and that he hasn’t done enough to stem the city’s rising murder rate.

Booker can boast of having nearly 1.5 million Twitter followers. But a recent Twitter exchange with a stripper did briefly make headlines.

And questions about Booker’s sexuality arose after he told the Washington Post earlier this year that he didn’t care if supporters thought he was gay.

“It’s something that’s almost fatiguing at this point,” Booker told CNN’s Jason Carroll earlier this week. “At the end of the day, I just believe we should be electing people on the content of their character, on the quality of their ideals, their dedication to their cause, not on who they’re dating.”

Paul Steinhauser and Conor Finnegan | CNN