TRENTON, N.J. - A rising star in the Democratic Party and a Republican former mayor won their parties' primaries on Tuesday as they seek to fill the final 15 months of the term of the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker defeated three experienced politicians — U.S. Reps. Rush Holt and Frank Pallone, who had the support of Lautenberg's family, and state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver — in a Democratic primary that may have been more competitive had the field been less crowded. The race was a major draw for them partly because of New Jersey's history of electing only Democrats to the Senate over the past 40 years.
In the Republican primary, former Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan won handily over Franklin Township physician Alieta Eck, who had never run for office before, even though she received the support of some conservative tea party organizations.
With 96 per cent of precincts reporting late Tuesday, Booker had about 59 per cent of the vote in the Democratic contest, with Pallone, who had the support of Lautenberg's family, a distant second. Lonegan had about 80 per cent of the vote in the Republican contest.
The election is on a compressed schedule. The day after Lautenberg's death, Republican Gov. Chris Christie scheduled the primaries for Tuesday and a special election for Oct. 16, 20 days before the voting day on which he's seeking re-election. The move drew criticism, with some opponents saying Christie was spending $12 million on an extra election so he could avoid being on the same ballot as Booker, a claim Christie denies.
Booker ran with the support of New Jersey's Democratic establishment and celebrities from across the country. Oprah Winfrey joined him at a fundraiser, and Eva Longoria campaigned with him.
Booker is famous in the political world for his life story and his social media fanaticism: He has 1.4 million followers on Twitter, which he uses to field complaints about local issues such as sinkholes and to dispense inspirational quotes.
He grew up in suburban Harrington Park, the son of some of the first black IBM executives, played football at Stanford, won a Rhodes scholarship, received a law degree from Yale, then moved into one of the toughest parts of Newark in an effort to revive the state's largest city.
In his acceptance speech Tuesday night in Newark, Booker talked about not following political convention and trying to find common ground with adversaries, but also about some core liberal beliefs: raising the minimum wage, rewriting the tax code, protecting Social Security and Medicare for seniors and securing equal pay for women and the right to marry for gays.
"It's a campaign that seeks to give testimony to the truth that the lines that divide us are insignificant compared to the ties that bind us," said Booker, who would be New Jersey's first black U.S. senator if elected.
Booker is in his second term as mayor. In the city, reviews are mixed, but his narrative has helped make him well-known elsewhere. And he's leveraged that power to help bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in grant money for the city, including a $100 million pledge from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Lonegan, who stepped down from his job as state director of the anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity, is a familiar voice in New Jersey politics, blunt and conservative. He ran in and lost gubernatorial primaries in 2005 and 2009.
In a fiery victory speech in Secaucus on Tuesday night, Lonegan blasted Booker as a candidate "anointed by Hollywood" and the top choice of "Silicon Valley moguls" who want to make him California's third U.S. senator.
Lonegan said he would ignore pollsters and pundits and emphasize personal freedom and reducing the role of government and particularly push to repeal President Barack Obama's health insurance overhaul, which Booker supports.
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