NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—This Wednesday, Democratic mayor of Newark Cory Booker will go head-to-head with Republican candidate and former mayor of Bogota Steve Lonegan to determine who will replace the late Frank Lautenberg in the US Senate.
A recent poll conducted by the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers shows Booker winning over Lonegan by more than twenty percentage points. Booker currently leads among likely voters by a margin of 58% to 36% with 3% undecided and 3% supporting other candidates.
But some analysts say that the rare Wednesday election could work to Lonegan's advantage, according to PolitickerNJ.com.
Governor Christie sparked a controversy when he decided to hold a special election to replace Lautenberg on Wednesday, October 16. Another option would have been to combine the Senate race with regular statewide elections occurring just 20 days later.
That election, on November 5, includes the gubernatorial contest in which Christie is favored to win over Democratic candidate Barbara Buono.
Combining the elections could have hurt Christie's chances. Democrats argued that holding the special election separately was an attempt by Christie to avoid being on the ballot with a high-profile Senate race likely to be won by a Democrat.
The special election is estimated to cost state taxpayers an additonal $12 million on top of the cost of the general election.
At the time, Christie explained his decision to call for the special election in October: “New Jersey voters deserve to have their voices heard in the United States Senate as soon as practicable.”
As we reported in June, Senator Lautenberg's death led to a scramble to replace him on the Democrat ticket.
Both Booker and Lonegan handily won their special party primaries on June 13 and emerged as the major candidates for the Democratic and Republican party, respectively.
Booker is known for his popularity and charisma, in addition to his hands-on approach to social issues. During his time as Mayor, Booker has focused on restricting access to guns, reforming education, and combating unemployment in Newark. The results have been mixed.
He once went on a 10-day hunger strike to protest open-air drug dealing near the city's public housing complexes in one of Newark's worst neighborhoods. During Hurricane Sandy, he let people in need of shelter stay in his house.
His high profile and reputation has earned him the support of countless celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Jon Stewart, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who gave a $100 million matching grant to reform education in Newark.
The New York Times endorsed Booker last week, calling him “far and away the better candidate.”
Lonegan is a proud Tea Party member, known for his far-right political views. He is against abortion rights and a vocal advocate for the rights of gun owners.
He is fiscally conservative, promoting major cuts in entitlement and welfare programs. He was one of the first staunch opponents of Obamacare and also opposed federal funding for hurricane relief after Sandy struck New Jersey.
Lonegan ran for governor of New Jersey in the 2009 Republican primmary and lost to Christie, who has given him lukewarm support for his Senate run.
Though Governor Christie formally endorses Lonegan, he remains close with Booker with whom he shares many opinions on issues such as charter schools.
Lonegan has brought other prominent Tea Party members to campaign for him including Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. He is also backed by the National Rifle Association and the Republican Liberty Caucus.
Third-party candidates on the ballot Wednesday include: Robert DePasquale with Jobs for Americans, Eugene Martin Lavergne of the D-R Party, Stuart David Meissner of Alimony Reform Now, Pablo Olivera with Unity is Strength, Antonio Nico Sabas with Freedom of Choice, and Edward C. Stackhouse Jr. with Ed the Barber.