Cory Booker vs. Geraldo Rivera for U.S. Senate? Who knows

Posted: March 28, 2013

CUE THE lightning bolts, let the high-octane music raise your heart rate and butter the popcorn, because we're about to speculate on a battle of epic proportions, a potential U.S. Senate race more explosive than Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, right here in the Garden State.

In one corner, there's Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a social-media superman who might pay your monthly cable bill if you asked him to, that rare elected official who hasn't been burned by fame's fire yet. If you don't see Cory Booker on television right now, that's because he's probably standing behind you, smiling.

But who is that mustached gentleman off in the distance, the one with the square jaw and salt-and- pepper mane, strutting toward Booker with a microphone? It's Geraldo Rivera, of course, and the Fox News host says he's interested in opening a vault of whoop-ass on New Jersey Democrats.

"Buckle your seat belts," Rivera said before announcing his political interests on his New York radio show last month.

Booker, 43, has already said he's running and Rivera said he's "seriously considering" it. Every cable-news producer in the country, except Fox maybe, is most likely praying for that matchup to pan out.

"The press inadvertently or advertently roots for these candidates. I think the press would love to cover them," says Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Uh, yeah, obviously: We're covering the Booker-vs.-Rivera 2014 battle for New Jersey supremacy now and it's just mere fantasy, like Peter Pan vs. Captain Hook. It must be noted that most analysts think the showdown probably won't happen.

"I just think he's putting out feelers," Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said of Rivera's interest. "I don't know whether he would be welcomed with open arms by the Republican Party."

Rivera, of Edgewater, Bergen County, could not be reached for comment, a spokeswoman said, because he's on vacation. Last month, Rivera said he'd spoken with some people in the New Jersey GOP about his interests, although he didn't say how they responded.

Rivera, 69, is a fiscal conservative who leans left on social issues like abortion and gay marriage. He's tough on crime, claiming in a Fox News Latino column that he supports a stop-and-frisk policy "in every police precinct, from Cape May to the Poconos."

Poconos? But they're not in . . . never mind.

No state GOP representatives returned requests for comment Tuesday, although Murray said their silence likely says a lot.

"They love somebody who comes in with instant name recognition and someone who can fund their own campaign, but they don't want to be seen as a laughingstock," he said.

Once a reputable muckraker, Rivera's been known to hype things a bit, like the treasures and dusty skeleton he bet that he would find beyond a sealed vault once owned by gangster Al Capone in Chicago's Lexington Hotel in 1986. Rivera found some old whiskey bottles instead but still broke ratings records and hasn't done much to shed the sensationalist label since.

"What people remember him the most for is Al Capone's vault," Murray said.

Booker turned a gig as mayor of Newark, not San Francisco or even Austin, into stardom. He's saved dogs, victims of Superstorm Sandy, and even suffered second-degree burns on his hand when he rescued a woman from a burning home.

Rivera has a little more than 32,000 followers on Twitter; Booker's amassed nearly 1.4 million. His office didn't return requests for comment but go ahead and tweet him and he'll bring over dinner.

"Other than Michael Bloomberg, he's probably the most famous mayor in the United States," said Kondik, the political analyst.

There were early rumors that Booker would mount a 2013 gubernatorial run in New Jersey, but alas, there's an even bigger force in the state, a Super Mechagodzilla if you will: Chris Christie.

But Rivera recovered from the empty vault and racked up more monster ratings and controversy when a neo-Nazi tossed a chair at his face on his talk show, when he let Charles Manson ramble on forever, and even recently, when he suggested that Trayvon Martin's hooded sweatshirt was "thug wear."

Rivera would have to give up his gig with Fox if he ran and, given recent polling numbers, he's a long shot. A Quinnipiac University poll of Garden State voters released last month showed Booker leading Rivera, 59-23.

So far, no other Republican has stepped up. Republican state Sen. Diane Allen, a former NBC 10 anchor who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2002, says the polls alone show that name recognition isn't enough for Rivera.

"The bottom line is you can have notoriety and if it's negative, it doesn't do you any good at all," Allen, of Burlington County, said Monday. "The whole thing is really getting out and talking to people all across the state. It means criss-crossing the state every day. I don't see him doing that, but maybe I'm wrong."

Rivera said he has time to make a decision, to "hone a message, get around and ride my Harley to all parts of Garden State."

If you see Rivera in the Poconos, tell him how to get back to Jersey.


On Twitter: @JasonNark

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