With Huge Lead in NJ Senate Race, Cory Booker Takes on the Field in Debate

With a lead of more than 40 percentage points over his nearest rival in the race for the New Jersey Senate seat, Newark Mayor Cory Booker expected to be the target of most of the attacks at last night’s debate—but most observers were surprised by the lack of viciousness on display a week before the August 13th primary election.

In a recent Quinnipiac poll, Booker was the choice of 52 percent of the respondents, while Rep. Frank Pallone pulled in 10 percent, Rep. Rush Holt won 8 percent and NJ state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver took 3 percent. In the all-important fundraising category, Booker had raised $6.5 million as of June 30th, with $4.5 million in the bank. In addition, a fundraiser Thursday night hosted by Oprah Winfrey puts Booker in a position to rake in quite a bit more.

The winner of the Democratic primary is a shoo-in to win the November election because New Jersey hasn’t sent a Republican to the Senate in more than 40 years.

In last night’s debate, Booker’s opponents in the Democratic field attempted to make an issue of his lack of experience at the statewide or federal level. But Booker wasn’t having it.

“Enough is enough. We have seen what 40 years of experience is getting us,” Booker said, referencing the nearly 40 years of congressional experience between two of his competitors, Reps. Pallone and Holt.

Booker has become a national figure partly because of his constant use of social media and his well-publicized heroics, such as coming to the aid of a woman who had just been in a serious car accident and running into a burning building—ignoring the pleas of his security detail—to rescue a woman inside. He also lived for a week on the same amount available to food stamp recipients to show the inadequacy of the federal programs for the poor.

Holt took a quick swipe at Booker’s celebrity.

“I’ve never run into a burning building, I don’t know Mark Zuckerberg, and I don’t have more than a million Twitter followers,” Holt said.

Zuckerberg, the billionaire founder of Facebook, donated $100 million toward improving Newark schools in 2010.

The other candidates also went after Booker for not making progress with Newark schools, which have been under control of the state since 1995.

“We have not seen improvement with state intervention. There is no question the difficulty with large urban districts is the politicization with the schools,” Oliver said.

Pointing to Booker’s support for Gov. Chris Christie’s education plans, Pallone asked how state control of the schools was impacting students’ education.

“What is the real impact?” he asked. “What does that mean in terms of how they want to influence what happens in the schools?”

But Booker said he’d “never ever apologize for bringing hundreds of millions of dollars to help poor kids get a good education.”


When Holt added that a “massive expansion of charter schools is not the answer,” Booker responded with charges of hypocrisy directed at Pallone and Holt, whom he claimed voted for a similar voucher program for District of Columbia schools.

Holt, the PhD scientist representing New Jersey’s 12th district, has a $350,000 ad campaign to run in New York and Philadelphia markets in the last week of the campaign that questions Booker’s progressive credentials.

In the ad, Holt wanders around a classroom and introduces himself as the “scientist who beat the supercomputer in Jeopardy!” He contrasts his positions on “breaking up the banks” and other issues dear to progressives with those of Booker’s before saying, “Cory may be the frontrunner in this race, but he’s no progressive.”


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