Christie to Back Lonegan But Stay Away From Race

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -

Gov. Chris Christie is expected to endorse the Republican running for U.S. Senate in New Jersey, but will otherwise stay hands off in a race featuring his Democratic friend and political ally Cory Booker.

Christie won’t be eager to tarnish Booker, the 44-year-old mayor of Newark, who is heavily favored to be the state’s next senator.

Challenger Steve Lonegan is trying to buck history by becoming the first Republican elected to the Senate from New Jersey in 40-plus years. Booker would make history by becoming the state’s first black senator. Early polls show Booker, who entered the race with a national profile, well ahead.

The Monmouth University Polling Institute’s Patrick Murray predicts Christie will appear alongside Lonegan only once — for an endorsement Murray said the Republican governor is obliged to make to appease the party’s conservative wing.

Christie and Booker enjoy a good working relationship, which was strengthened when Booker decided to run for the Senate rather than challenge Christie for governor. They formed a powerful alliance to eliminate lifetime teacher tenure, with the Newark teachers’ union becoming the first to ratify a contract that provides for bonus pay based on classroom performance.

While they disagree on social issues, they are like-minded about government workers paying more for their retirement and health benefits. The two appeared in a parody video last year and strolled the beach together at the governor’s Shore residence.

Booker has been respectful of Christie even on the stump, careful not to mention the governor by name or to bash his policies while campaigning for Christie’s Democratic opponent, Sen. Barbara Buono. Lonegan and Christie, on the other hand, exchanged pointed rhetoric while adversaries during the 2009 gubernatorial primary, and have been at arms length since.

Lonegan backers apparently grasp the dynamic of the race.

“The governor’s got his race to run, and Steve has his,” said Lonegan strategist Rick Shaftan. “He’s got his issues, and Steve has his. They’re totally different — state and federal.”

The Oct. 16 special election will decide who succeeds the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Christie’s re-election will be decided three weeks later, and he is counting on winning big to showcase his bipartisan appeal and raise his stature as a possible 2016 presidential candidate.