Trailing in the polls and with time running out, New Jersey Republican Senate nominee Steve Lonegan aggressively attacked Democrat Cory Booker's celebrity status during a debate Wednesday night, saying the Newark mayor has built himself up more prominently than the city he runs.
With one week to go before election day, Lonegan went after Booker’s record on crime and job creation. He attempted to portray Booker as a Hollywood liberal whose inattention to the city of Newark has thwarted economic growth and allowed violence.
"Under Cory Booker, about a month ago, 14-year-old Ali Henderson was shot to death in the streets of Newark while he was on the Jimmy Fallon show telling people what a great job he was doing," said Lonegan.
The Republican attempted to hit Booker on the issue of crime throughout the night, arguing he has failed to keep his city safe. At one point, while discussing environmental regulations, Lonegan suggested that Newark residents were unable to swim in a local river not because of pollution, but "because of all the bodies floating around from shooting victims in your city."
When Booker joked that the most common bird in Newark now is “the crane” because of all the new construction, Lonegan shot back, “The only birds in Newark are the vultures. The political hacks that are picking away at the carcasses of the tax payers of that city.”
Booker, in return, has attempted to portray his tea party backed opponent as an uncompromising extremist who would only contribute to the Washington gridlock.
"The first election during the shutdown, we can send a message directly to Washington: Do we want to send more tea party people down there who are so obsessed with Obamacare that they want to shut down the entire government to stop the expansion of health care to more people in America?" Booker said.
Throughout the debate he harped on Lonegan's support for tea parties members of Congress who he said led to the government shutdown. In return, Lonegan called Booker “a Hollywood stand-in for Barack Obama,” who easily won the state in his 2012 re-election.
Since declaring his candidacy, Booker has enjoyed a very comfortable lead thanks to his high name recognition. But Lonegan has been able to partially cut into that margin in recent weeks after it was revealed Booker was communicating on twitter with an exotic dancer. The exchanges, though, were tame and Booker has brushed off questions about the messages, saying he communicates with many people through social media.
A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday ahead of the debate showed Booker still enjoying a 12 point lead.
During the debate, Lonegon at times helped play into Booker's portrayal of him as a right wing conservative. The former Bogota, N.J. mayor cited Republicab Sens. Mike Lee and Ted Cruz as members of the Senate he admires. Cruz has been largely seen as the face of the GOP's opposition to a government funding bill that does not defund Obamacare and the shutdown.
Following the debate, the Tea Party Express announced they would be holding a rally for Lonegan with Sarah Palin on Saturday, a move unlikely to win over the largely blue state's more moderate voters.