Newark Mayor Cory Booker looks set to run against 88-year-old incumbent Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) in 2014, rather than facing off against New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie. While this move has pissed off the New Jersey Democrats, and put them in the awkward position of scrambling for a candidate to face Governor Christie, other questions remain. Notably, will Mayor Booker win the Senate seat?
Booker has said that he will "consult" with Senator Lautenberg, and that it would be a "privilege" to continue his legacy of service. The only problem is that Lautenberg has no stated intention of retiring from the Senate. Booker's presumptuous comments have already bought him some criticism from other New Jersey politicians and possibly from Lautenberg himself, who is allegedly, and reasonably, offended that someone else would dictate his retirement plans.
Basically, this is a set up for one of two scenarios. Either Cory Booker has to face off against Lautenberg in the primaries, or Lautenberg retires and Booker will almost definitely be the Democratic candidate. No offense, Frank Pallone. In either scenario, I suspect, and ridiculously premature polling backs me up, that Cory Booker would win.
I don't want to discount New Jersey politicians, who would like due deference to be shown to Lautenberg, presumably in the style of The Godfather, but Cory Booker is really, really popular. He's a slumber party giving, house fire victim rescuing, snow shoveling super mayor, and probably the most contagiously upbeat person in U.S. politics. People may be a little critical of the results of some of his efforts, and his win in 2010 wasn't the 72% of the vote sweep that he got in 2006, but his celebrity status, often derided by critics, is exactly what will bring in the votes in 2014.
Unemployment is up in Newark, but unemployment has been up across the board during the recession, and Booker has created some noticeable changes in Newark in terms of reducing the deficit and bringing construction to the downtown area — including the city's first two hotels. If nothing else Booker has been a fantastic cheerleader and supporter of Newark, and that's brought investment. There are those who say he should go to the Senate because he's not suited for the trench warfare that is governing a challenging municipality, but there's an equal number who would say that Booker's optimism and high-mindedness are exactly what New Jersey cities need, and what would make him an excellent governor. Maybe he just doesn't want to challenge Christie because they're friends. It almost doesn't matter.
It's not that these issues don't count in a Senate race it's just that if and when he runs for Senate his only credible competition for the seat would be Governor Christie, and we know that's not going to happen. Honestly, short of a truly impressive scandal, no one is going to beat Cory Booker in a popularity contest in New Jersey.