Launching campaign, Booker contrasts views with GOP opponent

Sen. Cory Booker waves to supporters as he kicks off his reelection campaign at Camden County College.
Sen. Cory Booker waves to supporters as he kicks off his reelection campaign at Camden County College. (TIM HAWK /Gloucester County Times)
Posted: September 05, 2014

Sen. Cory Booker launched his reelection campaign Wednesday at Camden County College, portraying himself as a pragmatic problem-solver whose "prosperity agenda" to lift the middle class contrasts sharply with his Republican opponent's "defunct and debunked" economic ideas.

Booker, a 45-year-old Democrat and the former celebrity mayor of Newark, is seeking his first full, six-year Senate term after winning a special election last year to complete the term of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Jeff Bell, a former campaign aide to President Ronald Reagan who was New Jersey's GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in 1978, is the Republican candidate.

During his 10 months in Washington, Booker told a crowd of supporters and students, he has fought to secure the country's social safety net by pushing to raise the federal minimum wage, extending unemployment insurance benefits, and blocking a "scheme" to privatize Social Security.

Just as he worked with Republican Gov. Christie to improve Newark's schools while he was mayor, Booker said, as senator, he has eschewed partisan politics in Washington. Instead, he said, he proposed legislation with Republicans such as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky that aim to give second chances to individuals convicted of nonviolent crimes.

Booker is heavily favored to win in a state that has not elected a Republican to the Senate in more than 40 years. He leads Bell in the polls by at least 10 percentage points, though many voters remain undecided, according to the surveys.

Booker had $3.5 million cash on hand as of June 30, according to his most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission. He has spent about $1.4 million this year.

Bell had no cash on hand, according to his most recent filing, after spending $232,000 this year so far.

Booker appeared to respond to criticisms of his first statewide campaign last year. Although he defeated tea-party-backed Steve Lonegan by 11 percentage points, some veteran Democrats privately criticized his campaign as passive.

On Wednesday, Booker sought to clearly contrast his progressive ideas with what he denounced as Bell's "voodoo economics" and "crazy theories."

"In this election there is a clear choice: a choice between a candidate that wants to take us back to the past, and one that wants to embrace the hope and possibility and truth of what we can do together in the future," Booker said.

Bell, 70, won June's primary to earn his party's nomination. He is campaigning on a return to the gold standard - that is, to tie the value of the dollar to gold, a system used on and off throughout history that was eliminated by President Richard Nixon.

Bell, who last worked as monetary director of a Washington public policy organization that sought to end the Federal Reserve's easy-money policies, says this system would stabilize prices and boost the middle class.

Booker said economists of both parties had dismissed Bell's ideas. Booker also tried to create a wedge on social issues such as gay marriage and the right to abortion, which he supports. Bell opposes both and has accused his opponent of embracing an "extreme" position on abortion.

Booker dismissed Bell, who lived in Virginia for 30 years before returning to New Jersey this year to run for Senate, as a "Washington insider" and lobbyist whose interests weren't aligned with the Garden State's.

"I know something about losing elections. I lost a tough one in 2002," Booker said of his first, unsuccessful run for mayor of Newark against Sharpe James. "I didn't pack my bags and head to the hills."

For his part, Bell acknowledged that most economists disagree with him.

"I welcome the opposition of the economics profession, which is in lockstep behind President Obama and Sen. Booker's do-nothing policy," Bell said in an interview.

He said he decided to move to New Jersey to run for Senate after realizing he couldn't effect change in monetary policy in his former job.

In attendance Wednesday at Camden County College were Booker's mother, Carolyn, as well as Democratic supporters such as Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd and State Sen. Donald Norcross, who is running for Congress in South Jersey's First District.

Booker's campaign schedule included stops in Perth Amboy and Garfield later Wednesday.

While Booker talked about his effort to work with members of both sides of the aisle in Washington, one person he didn't mention was President Obama.

Forty-five percent of registered voters in New Jersey approve of the job Obama is doing, while 51 percent disapprove, according to a July Monmouth University Poll. The GOP is hoping to exploit the president's poor approval numbers in other states in an effort to take control of the Senate.

"This is not about who the president is," Booker told reporters. "I'm going to talk about my record and my vision."

The election is Nov. 4.


aseidman@phillynews.com

856-779-3846

@AndrewSeidman

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