COMMENTARY | We’ve all assumed that Cory Booker would win the open New Jersey Senate seat before Frank Lautenberg’s body was cold. But a spirited challenge from conservative GOP candidate Steve Lonegan could produce the same upset Massachusetts Democrats got from Scott Brown in 2010.
To find out more, I interviewed his former pollster to figure out how the Lonegan campaign was able to take Booker’s once insurmountable lead and get it down to nearly single digits.
“I was on the Mississippi and Tennessee border back in 2010, watching ‘Walking Tall,’ thinking ‘there’s no way Scott Brown will win,” said Rick Shaftan, a former pollster and spokesman with the Lonegan campaign, in an interview. “But he did.”
It seems like a tall order. After all, Republicans haven’t won a U.S. Senate seat in 40 years. And wasn’t Barack Obama reelected, capturing New Jersey? But the Lonegan campaign isn’t afraid of Obama in the race.
“If you think Obama’s doing a good job, then Booker is your man,” Shaftan remarked. “And Obama has higher negatives than positives in this state.”
Booker is no stranger to politics. He’s so well known that he doesn’t even need Obama’s coattails. He’s as recognizable in Hollywood as Hoboken. But Lonegan’s staff sees that as a liability for the Democrat.
“Booker likes to dazzle voters with lofty words about unity and inspiration, but it won’t translate to the polls,” Shaftan pointed out. “He’s the most shallow guy in politics.”
Lonegan also picked up support from other well-known conservatives, like Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, an Alaska Governor and former small town mayor herself.
Booker’s staff likes to point to their candidate’s experience with running a large city (Newark), while Lonegan’s experience at being a Mayor is the small town of Bogota, New Jersey.
“Booker has an artificial record as Mayor,” Shaftan said. “Newark’s taxes are higher, as is crime, murder, debt, and unemployment.”
Turnout in the New Jersey special Senate election could be the key. Though most polls still show Booker in command, Lonegan argues that the Wednesday special election is tailor-made for older voters, conservatives and Tea Party-types. And Democrats would do well not to forget the special Massachusetts Senate Election in January of 2010.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.