Newark Mayor Cory Booker won the Democratic nomination in New Jersey's special primary election by a landslide Tuesday night, putting him one step closer to a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Booker beat out three other Democratic competitors in the contest to succeed the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, defeating Reps. Frank Pallone and Rush Holt as well as Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. With most precincts reporting late Tuesday, Booker had a 40 point lead over the runner up, Pallone.
In his victory speech Tuesday night, Booker thanked and praised his Democratic opponents, and said he planned to bring a new style of politics to Washington.
“They say we are being naïve, to them I say have you ever met us, do you know where I’ve been working for the last seven years. This is Newark, New Jersey, and we don’t do naïve," he said.
Now, the popular celebrity mayor faces a special general election in just over two months, when he will face Republican Steve Lonegan.
The former Bogota, N.J., mayor and conservative activist won the GOP nomination over physician and first time candidate Alieta Eck. Lonegan, who is legally blind, unsuccessfully challenged Chris Christie in the 2009 Republican gubernatorial primary.
In a state mostly dominated by Democratic office holders, Booker will be a heavy favorite to win the Oct. 16 special general election.
During his victory speech he promised to fight for issues like child poverty, women's health and marriage equality.
“If you want someone in Washington that plays by the same old rules, you should find someone else," Booker said.
The most recent Quinnipiac University poll released last week showed Booker topping Lonegan by 25 points in a general election matchup.
Regarding his opponent, Booker promised a clean fight, on his part, saying, “I will match his negative attacks with positive vision.”
Lonegan meanwhile, in a fiery victory speech, blasted Booker as a candidate "anointed by Hollywood" and the top choice of "Silicon Valley moguls" who want to make him California's third U.S. senator.
"We know what we believe in," he said. "We're going to say what we believe, and when we go to Washington, D.C., we are going to do what we say."
Whoever wins in the fall will serve out the remainder of Lautenberg’s term. The seat is being temporarily filled by Republican Jeffrey Chiesa, the state’s former attorney general, who was Christie’s interim pick.
If Booker wins, the balance of power in the Senate would return to a 55-45 advantage for Democrats, meaning Republicans need to win six seats in next year’s midterms to gain control of the upper chamber.
The winner of the special election would face voters again in 2014 for a full six-year term. Christie set the controversial special election timeline — with the costly special election slated just three weeks before regularly scheduled statewide elections on Nov. 5 -— saying, he wanted to give voters a choice as soon as possible.
But some critics charge that without a contested Senate campaign happening at the same time as his own re-election, turnout among Democrats is likely to be far lower, allowing Christie to run up the margin of victory in a race he is already a big favorite to win.
The shortened time 10-week sprint to the Democratic primary may have helped Booker, who has a close relationship with the GOP governor. The Twitter-savvy and energetic politician had the highest statewide name ID and a heavy financial advantage over his competitors, and he never relinquished his early lead.
Booker had already announced he was running for the open seat in 2014, but he did so even before Lautenberg announced in February that he would not run again, bristling the senior senator and many of his allies.
But when the 89-year-old passed away in June, the timeline was pushed into high gear.
The trio of Democratic competitors couldn’t make headway against Booker, who faced questions over his finances in the race's final week. Each tried, but all three were hamstrung by the crowded race.
Pallone had the backing of Lautenberg’s family, who praised him as a “workhorse” in the face of “showhorse” Booker. Holt tried to woo the progressive crowd, talking about privacy issues and how he would work to stop controversial NSA surveillance programs.
And Oliver, who was hamstrung at the beginning by the ongoing legislative session, said the Garden State needed a female representative in Washington.
Either way, the Democratic leadership has already thrown their support behind Booker, with Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, Chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, issuing the following statement after the primary win:
"Mayor Cory Booker is going to be the kind of Senator New Jersey can be proud of, and I congratulate him on his victory tonight. I look forward to working side by side with Cory, and supporting his reelection next November."
The Associated Press contributed to this report
First published August 13 2013, 7:36 PM