The poll numbers say Rep. Rush Holt has virtually no chance to win his bid for New Jersey Senate.
But that hasn't stopped the Democratic congressman from working to set himself apart in next Tuesday's special election primary, where Newark Mayor Cory Booker seems headed toward an inevitable win over Holt, Rep. Frank Pallone and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver to succeed the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
Holt's strategy in the summer sprint? He made privacy issues a key point of his underdog campaign, a topic of contention after leaks of once-classified National Security Agency documents exposed the breadth of U.S. surveillance programs. President Obama defended the spying operations on Tuesday evening's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, but Holt on Wednesday's The Daily Rundown that he was still against their use, even to gather intelligence on potential terrorist threats.
"This vacuum cleaner, wholesale collection on all Americans doesn't make us safer," said Holt.
A scientist and former professor, Holt has also introduced legislation to repeal the PATRIOT Act, and last week held a town hall with The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, who broke the news of the NSA’s surveillance programs.
In his first TV ad released earlier this week, Holt was also the only candidate to attack the frontrunner Booker directly in what's been a relatively clean campaign.
“We need to pass a carbon tax to stop climate change, break up the Wall Street banks, and stop the government spying on innocent Americans," Holt says in the spot. "Cory Booker doesn’t support any of these ideas. I approved this message because Cory may be the frontrunner in this race—but he’s no progressive.”
But in the face of a new Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday morning showing Holt in third place and Booker still mopping up the vote with 54%, Holt said he believes the uncertainty of the turnout could work in his favor, even though Booker has consistently led every poll.
"I'm the one that actually has a progressive record and has made this campaign about progressive issues," said Holt.
Holt doesn't have to give up his safe congressional seat to run in this election, and if he does lose against Booker on Tuesday, the Democrat didn't sound like he'd wage another campaign against Booker, when the full term is up in 2014.
"I've generally said that the winner of this primary is likely to be a New Jersey senator for years to come," said Holt. "That's why I'm putting the emphasis on identifying my supporters and turning them out to vote. that's, you know, old-fashioned politics."