Cory Booker: Newark Mayor Booker has built a national following through speeches across the country and through his prolific use of social media, where he has a substantial following.
The 44-year-old mayor grew up in suburban Harington Park, where his parents were civil rights activists and among the first African-American executives at IBM. He graduated from Stanford, became a Rhodes Scholar and received a law degree from Yale before taking a job at a Newark nonprofit and moving into a notoriously tough public housing project. He then launched a political career.
He was first elected mayor in 2006.
Newark’s downtown has been reinvigorated under his watch, and in 2010, he so impressed social media mogul Mark Zuckerberg that he pledged $100 million to improve the city schools.
But local critics long complained Booker spent too much time out of Newark.
Booker began raising money to run for the U.S. Senate in January and by March had amassed $1.9 million. A Quinnipiac Poll shows Booker has a big lead in the primary.
Sheila Oliver: Oliver, the speaker of the Assembly, laments that New Jersey’s 14-member congressional delegation is all men. She said that’s one reason she’s running.
Oliver, 60, from East Orange, became the first African-American woman to lead the Assembly during a power shuffle in 2009.
She’s been a state lawmaker since 2004. Her other job is as an $85,000-a-year administrator in the Essex County government, where she works for Joseph DiVincenzo, the county executive and a powerbroker in the Democratic Party.
During her time as speaker, the Legislature has carried out versions of many of Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s plans, including making tenure protections harder for teachers to get and easier to lose, making government employees pay more for pension and health insurance benefits and capping the growth of property taxes. But she’s one of Christie’s most vocal critics on other fronts.
Frank Pallone: U.S. Rep. Pallone says his experience in Congress will help distinguish him from the other candidates.
Pallone, 61, has been seen as a potential candidate for statewide office for more than a decade. The Democrat was among the members of Congress passed over by Jon Corzine in 2006 when Corzine left the Senate to become governor and was able to name his own successor.
Pallone is positioning himself as the liberal ideological heir to Lautenberg, pointing out that the two sponsored some of the same legislation. He says his long record in Congress — he’s been there since 1989 — is what sets him apart from other candidates. While both Republicans in the race are blasting the federal health-care overhaul, Pallone is proudly one of its authors.
He also has a strong history of promoting labor-backed causes and unions have reciprocated with support.
At the end of March he had about $3.7 million in campaign funds available, making him the candidate with the most money coming out of the gate to spend on what will be a short race.
Rush Holt: U.S. Rep. Holt was the first Democrat to announce he would seek his party’s nomination for the seat.
Holt, now 64, was assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory for most of the 1990s before being elected to Congress in 1998. Around his central NJ district, it’s not uncommon to see a bumper sticker that proclaims, accurately: “My congressman IS a rocket scientist.”
He is considered one of the most liberal members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation and he says he is the most progressive. He’s pushed for laws against racial profiling and has been critical of drilling for oil and gas on public lands and waters. He says he’s the progressive in the race.
At of the end of March he had about $800,000 in campaign funds available.
Steve Lonegan: Lonegan has been involved in statewide politics since 2001, when he was the mayor of Bogota, a small Bergen County community.
He filed a lawsuit to demand public votes on practically all state government borrowing. Since then, he has used legal filings and public campaigns to fight practically every plan for the state to borrow money or increase taxes.
In 2007, he successfully led the campaign against a referendum to raise the state’s sale tax. Lonegan, now 57, is now the New Jersey director for the anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity.
Christie did not rule out endorsing Lonegan, noting that they agree on more issues than not and saying they have worked well together in the past three years.
Alieta Eck: Eck, 62, is a first-time political candidate who has the backing of some Tea Party groups in the Republican primary.
She’s a Piscataway-based physician. In 2003 she and her husband founded Zarephath Health Center, a free clinic for the poor and uninsured run by volunteer doctors and nurses.
Eck is a critic of President Barack Obama’s health insurance overhaul. She said that a better way of providing health care to the poor would be to ask doctors to donate some of their time.
While she is not well-known in the political world, she says she has made several presentations to Congress about how to provide better health care more affordably.