First Thoughts: Christie's big favor to Booker

Booker cruises to victory -- and he can thank Chris Christie for the shortened primary race… Turnout was better than expected, but that’s not saying much… The NYT’s revealing piece on the Clinton Foundation… The nuggets in the article: Perks for celebrities, allegations of mismanagement, worries about financial conflicts of interest… And RNC begins three-day meeting in Boston.


*** Christie’s big favor to Booker: Last night in New Jersey, Newark Mayor Cory Booker -- as expected -- easily won the special Democratic Senate primary, and he’ll be the overwhelming favorite in the Oct. 16 special general election against conservative activist Steve Lonegan. With 98% of precincts reporting, Booker got 59% of the vote, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) got 20%, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) got 17%, and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver got 4%. On the GOP side, Lonegan crushed physician Alieta Eck, 79%-21%. But here’s a thought exercise: Does anyone think that Booker’s large margin of victory would have occurred if the race had been a year-plus slog taking place in 2014 instead of a two-month sprint? As Buzzfeed has noted, his opponents had plenty of ammunition. “The weekend before the biggest election of his life, Cory Booker had problems: His digital media company was the subject of two critical articles in The New York Times; his personal finances were under scrutiny; and the Republican he’d be facing in the general was on the warpath before polls had even opened for the primary.” But the opposition didn’t have enough time to erase Booker’s significant money, name ID, and demographic advantages. Bottom line: By scheduling very quick elections, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) did Booker a very big favor. And Cory Booker is now on the fast track to becoming the state’s next senator after Oct. 16…

*** Turnout was better than expected -- but that’s not saying much: In the handful of elections this year, turnout has been INCREDIBLY low. Just 23% of registered voters turned out in Los Angeles’ mayoral run-off, and Eric Garcetti won with the lowest raw vote total (222,300) of any incoming mayor since Frank Shaw in 1933 (187,368)!!! In Massachusetts’ special Senate election back in June, turnout was an all-time low of 28%, and winner Ed Markey’s 645,000 votes were significantly less than defeated Martha Coakley’s 1 million-plus in 2010. And check out these headlines and write-ups from primaries earlier this year: The Star Ledger: “Christie, Buono win party nominations; low voter turnout mark 2013 NJ primary elections.” The Washington Post on Virginia’s June 11 primaries: “A sparse crowd of Virginia Democrats turned out to nominate Ralph Northam for lieutenant governor and Mark Herring for attorney general Tuesday.” However, last night’s contest in New Jersey broke the trend -- turnout was higher than expected for a mid-August primary. But that’s not saying much. One the one hand, Booker received the most votes since Bill Bradley in 1978 in a non-presidential Democratic primary. And this was the most votes cast in a Democratic non-presidential Senate primary since the contested 1982 election. On the other hand, Booker only got 2,000 more votes than Christie did in the June uncontested primary, and turnout overall was still only 9%, which is pretty dismal.

*** The NYT’s revealing piece on the Clinton Foundation: If you followed the Clinton White House in the 1990s or Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2007-2008, today’s New York Times story about mismanagement and conflicts of interest inside the Clinton Foundation shouldn’t be too surprising. And the theme is a potential problem for Team Clinton should Hillary run in 2016. “For all of its successes, the Clinton Foundation had become a sprawling concern, supervised by a rotating board of old Clinton hands, vulnerable to distraction and threatened by conflicts of interest. It ran multimillion-dollar deficits for several years, despite vast amounts of money flowing in,” the Times reports.

*** Perks for celebrities, allegations of mismanagement, worries about financial conflicts of interest: Some of the nuggets inside the New York Times story: Despite its budget shortcomings, “the foundation purchased a first-class ticket for the actress Natalie Portman, a special guest, who brought her beloved Yorkie” to a 2009 Clinton Global Initiative gathering at the University of Texas. Also: “But others criticized [Ira] Magaziner, who is widely seen within the foundation as impulsive and lacking organizational skills. On one occasion, Mr. Magaziner dispatched a team of employees to fly around the world for months gathering ideas for a climate change proposal that never got off the ground.” And the story singled out the firm, Teneo, founded by Clinton Foundation big-wig Doug Band. “Its marketing materials highlighted Mr. Band’s relationship with Mr. Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative, where Mr. Band sat on the board of directors through 2011 and remains an adviser. Some Clinton aides and foundation employees began to wonder where the foundation ended and Teneo began.”

*** RNC meets in Boston: Finally, the Republican National Committee today begins holding its three-day summer meeting in Boston. On today’s agenda: A noon ET workshop by Newt Gingrich and RNC Chair Reince Priebus on discussing new ways to lead. On Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) addresses the RNC members (though it’s closed to the press). And on Friday, the RNC holds its general session, as well as a political and technology background briefing. In fact, the thrust of the meeting -- the theme is “Making it Happen” -- is to highlight how the RNC is changing its approach to technology and voter outreach. “There is no doubt the Obama campaign was ahead of Romney in 2012. That was built around one candidate for one candidate who isn't running in 2014 or 2016,” an RNC official tells First Read. “The RNC is building a permanent campaign to help Republicans up and down the ticket for cycles to come.”

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