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As promised, I wanted to continue providing coverage of the ongoing New Jersey Senate race before the August 13th Democratic primary.  Its no shock but Newark Mayor Cory Booker continues to be the overwhelming favorite for both the primary and the general election where he will likely trounce Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan.  Still, the race is ongoing and heavily local for me so I will keep giving frequent updates throughout the summer.

Now that all petitions have been signed and intentions have been announced, we are starting to get a look at how the candidates are going to campaign.  Some of the bigger storylines have been Booker securing endorsements of the political bosses of New Jersey (most notably the “Christiecrats”) and the continued battle between Reps. Frank Pallone and Rush Holt to distinguish themselves from one another.  So let’s look.

Cory Booker

Booker has continued doing what Booker does best.  He has been marketing himself very well and using Twitter as the backbone of his campaign outreach and its impossible to deny his personal popularity.  Booker also has been reaping the endorsement game getting the backing of potential national figures such as Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, political bosses Joe DiVincenzo and George Norcross, as well as essentially all of the South Jersey Democratic delegation.

Keep in mind though that Norcross essentially “owns” all Democrats in South Jersey, which you can read about in my blog post here.

What we haven’t really gotten out of Booker though are his stances on several key issues that he would vote on as Senator including the Keystone XL pipeline and Wall Street reform.  Given Booker’s reputation as a social liberal and fiscal conservative (according to Norcross) and his stances as a proponent of charter schools and against teacher tenures; it would be useful to find out how he feels about other issues.  I would expect him to obviously vote like a Democrat on almost all issues still.

Rush Holt

Yes, I have “endorsed” (aka I intend on voting for him on August 13th) Rush Holt as I believe he will be the best successor to Frank Lautenberg but let’s look at his campaign.

Holt is doing something pretty interesting and something that might be worth keeping tabs on.  He’s casting himself as the “anti-Booker” and really embracing the role of the lovable underdog in the race.  His introductory campaign video talks about his life as a scientist and his “fun fact” of beating the supercomputer “Watson” on Jeopardy.  He mentions Booker in a way that shows differences between their personalities but nonetheless is pretty positive.

Holt can do very well in this race if he really taps into the grassroots.  He probably won’t the prodigious fundraiser that Booker and Frank Pallone are but he’s going to have to make up for that by attacking the ground which I believe he will do pretty effectively.  Still, he’s got a long way to go and each day is critical.

Frank Pallone

Frank Pallone and Cory Booker exchanged the first “barbs” of the campaign in separate appearances on the Brian Lehrer Show in which Pallone accused Booker of being too close to Chris Christie and Booker accused Pallone of being entrenched in Washington culture and being a partisan.

Pallone could be the biggest threat to Booker in terms of money as he has proven to be capable of raising millions and entered the race with 3.7 million in his bank.  Pallone also might be one to ding up Booker’s reputation a bit as the people who tend to vote in special elections are the “diehards” who WANT a partisan, consistent Democratic voice representing them.

Still, like Holt, Pallone has roughly sixty days to ding one of the most popular politicians in the nation.  In fact, Holt will likely get more diehard support around his campaign than Pallone.  To his credit though, Pallone was endorsed today by the 8,500-member Sheet Metal Workers Union.

Sheila Oliver

I’m sorry, I don’t see the point of this campaign.  I still smell something here that just doesn’t add up.  Oliver is the Speaker of the General Assembly and here place there was largely “paid” for by Norcross and DiVincenzo.  She has been crucial in passing several articles of legislation that goes against Democratic beliefs and doesn’t really have as big of a state profile as say, Senate President Stephen Sweeney.

Either Oliver is on the way out with the political bosses or she’s there for Cory Booker to point at and say “I might be close to Chris Christie, but I was never instrumental for him to pass legislation”.  That’s just me though.

Polling

Polling continues to show Booker WELL ahead of his challengers by scoring in the upper-50s or lower 60s.  Pallone and Holt register in the high single digits or lower double digits, respectively, and Oliver has been at around 5%.

Debates

Frank Pallone has called for multiple debates for the primary but Booker has yet to explicitly commit to a debate (hinting that he does want to but espousing that they are all similar) which makes sense given how Booker will certainly faced a two-pronged attack from Pallone and Holt.

Pulse of the Race

Cory Booker is clearly the overwhelming favorite but there COULD be a couple factors that at least ebb into his standing.  If he gets attacked from the left, he’s going to have to play up his progressive credentials and commit to various progressive causes.  Turnout should probably be lower in an August primary than not and while I expect him to win, I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets a mini-scare at some point in this cycle.

Holt definitely has a fan base in Mercer County and seems to be very popular.  He needs to get his name out there consistently though.  His best bet could very well be tapping into “The Big Bang Theory”, I mean let’s be real; who doesn’t want to see Rush Holt next to Sheldon Cooper?

Pallone needs to use his money to his advantage and make sure he can keep it flowing. He might get some union support, if today’s endorsement is any indication, so that could help.

Sheila Oliver might be able to get some backing from women’s groups, and if EMILY’s List for example gets involved, she could make some headway.

Countdown To August 13th:

54 Days and counting

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