The speculation in New Jersey is Booker might be more interested in running for Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s seat in 2014—if the 88-year-old Lautenberg finally retires—than running against Gov. Chris Christie in 2013. The pugnacious Christie is riding a wave of popularity in the state because of his handling of Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath, during which he emerged as a strong, non-partisan proponent of New Jersey’s interests above the presidential ambitions of Mitt Romney. By working closely with President Obama and rebuffing complaints from national Republicans that he was hurting Romney’s chances by making Obama look good, Christie impressed New Jersey residents with his priorities and his toughness.
While Christie would be a daunting opponent for Booker, Christie is still a Republican governor in a state that is overwhelmingly blue in recent years—Obama won New Jersey by an even wider margin in 2012 than in 2008. Although New Jersey also has a history of electing moderate Republicans like Tom Kean and Christie Todd Whitman, moderate Republicanism is a relic of the past, which might make New Jerseyans more likely to favor Booker rather than a member of a Republican Party that seems increasingly distant from the interests of New Jerseyans, who are pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-education and pro-same-sex marriage. Earlier this year, Christie reminded voters that he is aligned with the national Republican Party politically when he vetoed a bill allowing same-sex marriage after it had passed the state Senate and Assembly.
As for Booker, there is no U.S. politician who has generated more glowing headlines than the two-term Newark mayor, who has run into a burning building to save a woman, has helped a car crash victim at the scene, has shown up at the doorstep of constituents to shovel out their driveways during snow storms, opened his home to Newark residents during Hurricane Sandy and a few days ago announced that he would live on a food stamps budget for a week after getting into an argument on Twitter during which he expressed his sympathy for the difficulties faced by the poor. Starting on Tuesday, Dec. 4, Booker will live on about $4.44 a day for food and chronicle the experience on social media.
Mark Matzen, Booker’s political adviser, told Politico that Hurricane Sandy had delayed the mayor’s decision-making about his future.
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“He’s actually just sort of getting over that now to where we can sort of have some more conversations about what his future might hold,” Matzen said. “He knows he needs to make a decision on this, he’s on the verge of making that decision. With the storm, it just sort of put us back.”
The latest Quinnipiac University poll, conducted before Sandy, showed Christie leading Booker 46 percent to 42 percent.
“I believe that everybody in the Democratic establishment believes that if Cory Booker comes into this race he clears the field of any other candidate. I certainly would support him,” state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2009 and wields strong influence over Bergen County Democrats, told Politico. “I think he has the personality, the fundraising prowess and the ability to be our best candidate.”