The big questions in Tuesday’s primaries for New Jersey’s U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Frank Lautenberg are who’s going to win, of course, but also, how many will vote?
Political watchers are expecting an especially low turnout in the race to pick a Democrat and Republican to campaign for the unfinished term of Lautenberg, who died in June. Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Republican former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan are the clear front-runners.
A mere 200,000 voters could decide the unprecedented mid-August primaries. The victors will square off in an Oct. 16 special election, and the winner will head to Washington for 15 months to finish out the term but would have to campaign again next year for a full six-year Senate term.
Booker, 44, began the race with obvious advantages over three opponents, Reps. Frank Pallone and Rush Holt, and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. Booker’s personal finances have recently become a target as questions were raised about his stake in the social media company Waywire, which he co-founded, and severance payments from a former law firm that had business with city agencies under his control.
The two veteran congressmen are both known as champions of public education and the environment, but the Lautenberg family endorsed Pallone. The only woman in the Democratic primary, Oliver based her campaign on the need for more females in Congress. But she has hinted that this race is a mere trial run for next year’s Senate campaign.
Like Booker, Lonegan, 57, has already defined himself politically. He is the veteran of two failed gubernatorial primaries and a 1998 congressional race who can count on money from the anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity and from others with conservative agendas.
Lonegan was criticized last week for a social media post that some said was offensive. The post said: “Just leaked — Cory Booker’s foreign policy debate prep notes.” It showed a map labeling parts of Newark “West Africa, Guyana, Portugal, Brazil” and other nations, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Newark is a largely minority city whose residents have roots in many parts of the world. The post was removed before the criticism erupted.
Lonegan’s only challenge comes from a political unknown, Somerset County physician Alieta Eck, another tea party candidate with a small budget who is in her first campaign for public office.