Democratic Sen. Cory Booker is in a race to aggressively define Republican challenger Jeff Bell before Bell can do that for himself.
While Bell ran a radio ad for several days, the well-funded Booker opened his campaign with a bang over the past week. He made a public appearance with former Sen. Bill Bradley, received the endorsements of several environmental groups and held raucous rallies at an official launch.
Booker, a former Newark mayor who was elected last year to complete the Senate term of the late Frank Lautenberg, bills himself as a politician who is willing to work closely with his adversaries, but he’s on the attack against Bell’s positions.
“He literally wrote the book making the case for polarized politics,” Booker said at a rally in Blackwood last week. Bell’s 2012 book is, in fact, called The Case for Polarized Politics: Why America Needs Social Conservatism.
But Bell said Booker’s criticism shows he’s concerned.
“If his internal polling showed this was a one-sided race,” Bell said, “he wouldn’t be attacking me out on the stump.”
Bell is a major underdog who hasn’t been in front of voters for more than 30 years. He won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 1978 but lost the general election to Bradley. He moved in the 1980s to Washington, where he spent three decades as a think-tank official and policy adviser.
A Quinnipiac poll in August showed him trailing Booker by just 10 points, closer than expected for someone who is little-known, underfunded and battling history.
The poll got attention in the political world, including from Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who said he would fundraise for Bell.
“Bell can absolutely win the race,” Christie said last month. “I think it’s kind of an interesting race to be looking at, that it’s that small a margin, backed up with the fact that Mayor Booker — Sen. Booker now — won by a smaller-than-expected margin in the special election last October.”
Bell has spent some of his campaign money promoting his ties to Reagan and a key part of his platform — returning the U.S. dollar to the gold standard for the first time since 1971. He says the move, while bold, would help spark the economy.