Polar opposites hope to attract voters today in N.J. Senate election

GETTY IMAGES Democratic hopeful: Cory Booker campaigns yesterday in downtown Newark, where he is mayor.
GETTY IMAGES Democratic hopeful: Cory Booker campaigns yesterday in downtown Newark, where he is mayor.
Posted: October 17, 2013

WHEN HE was running for governor in 2009, Steve Lonegan suggested that a bulldozer might best address Camden's blight by plowing over the thousands of abandoned homes and vacant storefronts sagging along the streets.

Lonegan, 57, lost the GOP primary to Chris Christie, but Newark Mayor Cory Booker, his opponent in today's special election to fill the late Frank Lautenberg's U.S. Senate seat, mentioned the remark on a stretch of Market Street in the troubled city Monday afternoon as an example of how out of touch he believes Lonegan's politics are.

"All of his views are representative of the extreme," Booker, his voice hoarse from touring the state, told a crowd of about 100 on the street.

The oddly timed election to replace Lautenberg, who died in June, has garnered more national interest in recent weeks because of the grinding quagmire in Washington, D.C. The candidates are polar opposites on the political spectrum, with President Obama endorsing Booker and Sarah Palin recently stumping for Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota, Bergen County.

Both men have argued that a vote today could be a barometer for the entire country's mood.

Lonegan, speaking in Medford, Burlington County, on Monday, urged his fellow Republicans to "hold the line."

"Yes, I want to hold the line because I'm not going to bankrupt this country for my children," he said. "We need to cut spending and cut deeply."

Booker, 44, said Lonegan was further to the right than any candidate New Jersey voters have ever been comfortable with. Lonegan would make a bad situation worse, he said.

"He believes in government shutdown," Booker said. "His hero is Ted Cruz," the outspoken conservative Texas senator.

Booker dismissed the relevance of the narrowing poll numbers, noting that the latest Monmouth University and Rutgers-Eagleton polls still had him ahead by 10 and 22 points, respectively. Just like the primary in August, however, voter turnout today is the biggest unknown, the only variable that could bring a surprise, political analysts said.

"It's really all guesswork at this point," said Peter J. Woolley, a political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, N.J. "You have to wonder whether people answering these polls think the election is next month."

Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said on his blog that New Jersey's never had an election quite like this, and he pointed to a special election in Massachusetts in June to fill John Kerry's seat as an indicator of what to expect.

"That election saw a 27 percent turnout," Murray wrote on his blog yesterday. "Although the Democrat won handily, this is the low turnout level that the Lonegan camp hopes to see tomorrow."

In 2009, when Lonegan suggested bulldozing sections of Camden, Dana Redd was seeking her first term as mayor there and described his idea as "Naziesque."

Redd, who's running for a second term, was the first person to greet Booker when he stepped off his tour bus Monday in front of the Camden City Democrats Office, one of the few buildings that's not closed, boarded up or crumbling on that side of Market Street.

On Twitter: @JasonNark

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