Democrat Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, has defeated his Republican opponent, Steve Lonegan, in the New Jersey Senate special election and will take the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg's seat.
“I heard it all over New Jersey – from north to south, urban, surburban to rural from Democrats to Independents to Republicans. I heard it from everybody,” Booker said in his victory speech. “They all said to me, ‘If I put you in Washington, don't go down to score victories for a party or politics, go down there to work for people.”
Booker will fill the seat once held by longtime Democratic senator Frank Lautenberg, who died at age 89 in June. With 58 percent of the precincts reporting, The Associated Press called the race for Booker who had 56 percent of the vote with 44 percent going to Steve Lonegan, a former mayor of Bogota, N.J.
After the AP declared his win, the social media-savvy politician tweeted:
With Booker as an addition, the Democratic Caucus in the Senate will hold a 55-45 advantage over Senate Republicans. Booker is also New Jersey's first ever black senator and the Senate chamber's second black member after South Carolina Senator Tim Scott.
After easily winning an August primary, the general election quickly became personal with attack ads launched to mainly set the two candidates' ideological differences apart. A favorite among New Jersey conservatives, Lonegan served as the New Jersey director of Americans for Prosperity, a political advocacy group funded by the conservative Koch brothers, before running. He also gained notoriety after attempting to set English as the official language of the town of Bogota while he was mayor.
"Unfortunately for whatever reason the message we delivered together ... did not win the day," the Republican candidate told his supporters Wednesday night.
The question on everyone's mind: why leave behind your soaring popularity in a Democratic-leaning state to join a legislative body with record-low popularity and that has developed an unfortunate reputation for its gridlock than legislative successes. His arrival in Washignton as the newest Senate member will be met with the testy and frigid aftermath of the government shutdown and the nation potentially defaulting on its debt.
Booker's campaign started out strong with the candidate's record-high 66% approval rating in the state, social-media prowess, and fundraising stability.
Booker outraised Lonegan in the special election by 8-1, raking in $11.2 million compared to Lonegan's $1.35 million, according to The Star-Ledger.
While voters expected the mayor to sail smoothly towards the finish line, Booker's road to victory experienced some turbulence. Throughout the campaign, Lonegan attacked Booker for Newark's continued economic hardships, tax increases and violent crime. Republicans also targeted his Twitter exhanges with a Portland stripper and speculation over his personal life and sexuality. Lonegan criticized Booker for holding out-of-state, red carpet fundraisers and said, "New Jersey needs a leader, not a tweeter."
Even still, Booker maintained a double-digit lead in most polls and celebrities such as Eva Longoria and Oprah endorsed the charismatic candidate, even throwing fundraisers for him. President Obama also endorsed Booker in August.
A day before the election, President Obama reminded New Jersey voters to vote for Booker in Wednesday's special election in a campaign video.
"Voters in New Jersey have the opportunity to vote for a leader with uncommon character,” Obama said in the video. “New Jersey also has an opportunity to send a message to the entire country about what kind of leadership we expect from our representatives in Congress. Cory Booker has spent his entire life bringing people with different perspectives together, regardless of party, to take on tough challenges."
Booker will succeed interim Senator and New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa who was appointed by Gov. Chris Christie to the Senate temporarily. Gov. Christie, a potential 2016 presidential contender, chose Wednesday, Oct. 16th as the date for the election. Critics argued the governor could have scheduled the election on the same day of his re-election. They accused Christie of unnecessary, wasteful spending by setting a separate election date, saying that Christie did not want the possiblity of Booker's popularity detracting Christie's chances of winning his own gubernatorial re-election by a wide margin. Chrstie said his decision was not a political one, and that he wanted voters to vote for their pick for Senate as quickly as possible.