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Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) has found himself more in the news during his tenure for non-political reasons.  There was him saving a neighbor from a fire, him taking a week-long challenge to live off of food stamps and then the near politically kamikaze mission that saw him say that President Obama’s attacks on Bain Capital were “nauseating”.

So in the words and thoughts of some, Booker’s tenure as Mayor has been nothing but a political sideshow.  He’s gone viral while clowning with Conan O’Brien and Chris Christie but all jokes aside, Booker has been touted as one of the top rising Democratic prospects not only in the state of New Jersey but the nation as well.

For good reason too, Booker does seem to be a genuinely nice guy and he has done an admirable job to be equally chummy with President Obama and Governor Christie.  Regardless of your views on him, it is amazing that someone (in this day and age no less) who called out the President for attacking venture capitalism, still is seen as a political prospect.

As a New Jersey progressive, I’ve admired Booker’s ability to stay in the news and his intelligence and charisma.  I could even probably say, without meeting the man, that I do enjoy him as a politician as he is fun to talk about.  Sure he might be a political “me-firster” but really is there a politician that’s not?

Then there is the Wall Street hugging.  If anything that could ruin Booker in a potential contested Democratic primary, it would be Booker’s pro-business record that saw him earn over $500,000 in political donations from Bain Capital and other groups.

To be honest, I guess I could understand why Booker hugs the private sector so tightly. Newark is obviously right next to New York City and Booker probably was trying to get businesses to invest in Newark more closely.  I can’t fully blame a candidate for having Wall Street ties, whatever floats your boat, but to pretend that Booker would qualify as a progressive or someone who could lead the charge for campaign reform?  Well, not going to happen.

However with Booker, New Jersey Democrats were waiting on his move to see if he would either stay put in Newark, run for Governor or potentially run for the Senate.

In the slowly-shaping gubernatorial race (please keep in mind, we are just less than 11 months from the 2013 race), only state senator Barbara Buono has committed to running.  Buono might be best well-known statewide for her bill, signed into law in 2003, that protected New Jersey residents from unsolicited telemarketers.  She’s not as big of a name as Booker, State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, former acting Governor Richard Codey or a celebrity such as Bruce Springsteen; but Buono would be higher than “token” opposition.  With the exception of Springsteen obviously, expect the other two candidates to publicly mull a run before likely deferring.

Then there is the matter of the 2014 Senate race.  Incumbent Senator Frank Lautenberg will be 90 when the election comes.  Now, Lautenberg appears to be in exceptional shape for his age and even though he had retired earlier (only to be thrust back in action following the corruption charges surrounding Bob Torricelli), he does appear to be quite at home in the Senate.  As we all know, the Senate is practically a lifetime job for many of its occupants and if Lautenberg serves until 2020; he’d be 96.

But Lautenberg has played coy with his political future.  Booker appears to have some rapport with him, though I’d be unwilling to call it a friendship, and at the minimum he’s giving the illusion of public respect for the longtime Senator.

However, it should not have surprised anyone when news leaked out today that Cory Booker was foregoing a shot at the Governor’s office and is instead mulling a run for the Senate.  Booker announced in his video that he released on YouTube today that he would serve his second term as Mayor (which takes him all the way to the summer of 2012) an will explore a Senate run in the meantime.

While he would praise Lautenberg and state that he it would be a “privilege and honor to continue his legacy of service.”, it seems the writing is on the wall.  If he wanted to not pressure Lautenberg into retiring, he likely wouldn’t have said anything.  If Lautenberg wanted to wait-and-see about his future, Booker would not have made this announcement right away.

That is not saying that Lautenberg will run in 2014, but I’m sure he’s not jumping for joy in thinking that his successor is officially waiting in the wings.  Booker, who is no stranger to the national press, appears to really want to serve in Washington, D.C. in some capacity.

Now if Lautenberg does retire, Booker may not have an easy path to election.  Democrats such as Rep. Frank Pallone or even Sweeney could also be licking their chops over a vacant Senate seat in a very safe blue state.  With the way that the New Jersey Democratic Party works (and to say there is one unified Democratic Party in NJ would be a misnomer); it would be very interesting to see the scrambling that would go down if Lautenberg retired.

Nonetheless Booker’s video showed his readiness in wanting to be a national figure.  The Senate, however, isn’t a place where people go to make an immediate splash.  For example, name a piece of legislation attached to Marco Rubio?  But Booker could get a safe seat, hit the airwaves on Meet The Press or Face the Nation, then prime himself for a potential national run as either a presidential candidate or vice presidential hopeful.

The man knows how to work the press.

But if Lautenberg stays in and Booker decides to make a splash?  The race gets even more interesting.  Lautenberg did successfully fend off Rep. Rob Andrews in 2006 but Booker will have far deeper pockets than Lautenberg.  Of course, I’d expect guys like Sen. Chuck Schumer to help out their Senate colleague and Lautenberg will have organized labor on his side no matter what; but Booker’s financial ties would create a chasm in the Democratic Party.

Stay tuned.

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