NEWARK, N.J. — Cory Booker, the Newark mayor whose sterling biography and star power have made him a larger-than-life political celebrity, will enter the national fray after winning New Jersey’s Senate race Wednesday.
Booker, 44, will become the Senate’s seventh-youngest member, its ninth-ever African American and only the fourth black senator ever popularly elected. Even before winning the race, he was widely seen as a potential presidential or vice-presidential contender as soon as 2016, though Booker has dismissed those ideas.
With 85 percent of the precincts reporting, Booker had 55 percent of the vote to 44 percent for Republican Steve Lonegan, a former mayor of Bogota, N.J., according to The Associated Press.
The victory came just six days after Booker’s 76-year-old father, Cary, died after a recent stroke.
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Running as a post-partisan uniter who has vowed to solve the dysfunction on display in the Capitol, Booker beat Lonegan, state director of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, who proudly promoted his staunchly conservative views, despite New Jersey’s Democratic leanings, and urged Republicans to keep up the fight in the government shutdown.
Lonegan even had tea-party hero Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, record robocalls on his behalf in the campaign’s final days. Several Republican voters interviewed Wednesday said the shutdown led them to support Booker rather than the confrontational Lonegan, and New Jersey polls showed that voters have blamed the GOP as the stalemate in Washington dragged on.
Booker, who holds liberal views on most issues and was endorsed by President Obama, will again give Democrats control of 55 Senate seats (counting left-leaning independents). He will take the seat formerly held by New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat who died in June and was temporarily replaced by a Republican, Jeffrey Chiesa, who was appointed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Christie’s office has said it will certify the election results by Nov. 5, which would then open the door to Booker’s swearing in to the Senate.
In Washington, Chiesa told Politico that he expects his last day to be around Nov. 1.
Booker’s pop-culture persona, embrace of technology and talent for self-promotion have long helped him thrive in the digital age — and prompted dizzying speculation about his potential.
His first formal foray into statewide politics proved more rocky than many expected. The Senate campaign left Booker bruised after the tenacious Lonegan attacked his record, casting the Democrat as more celebrity than substance, and drawing attention to the crime and unemployment rates still plaguing Newark.
Booker will have to run for re-election in 2014. The vote Wednesday was only to finish the last year of Lautenberg’s unexpired term. Lautenberg’s death set the stage for an abbreviated election schedule that culminated with the unusual Wednesday election.
Material from The New York Times is included in this report.