Lautenberg's son blasts 'show horse' Booker as family endorses Pallone

The family of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) on Monday endorsed Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D) in the New Jersey Senate race and criticized front-runner Cory Booker (D) as a glory-seeking "show horse" who lacks their father's work ethic. 

"My father was known as a workhorse, not a show horse," Josh Lautenberg, the late senator's son, told The Hill. 

"He lived every moment through his last days to serve the people of New Jersey, and that is something that is so important to him. But he [saw] Cory as a show horse, not a workhorse, something that, in his guts, bothered him."

The Lautenberg family's endorsement is likely to come with help on the campaign trail. Josh Lautenberg said he and possibly his sisters could stump for Pallone at the end of July or early August.

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But it's unclear whether Lautenberg's political operation in the state will move into action for Pallone. Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J., has snapped up two of Lautenberg's former political staffers for his campaign.

Within the past few weeks, Booker has brought Julie Roginsky, who previously worked on Lautenberg's 2008 and Pallone's 1996 campaigns; and Brendan Gill, formerly Lautenberg's state director and his 2008 campaign manager, onto his campaign.

Gill, in his position as Essex County freeholder, also endorsed Booker last month.

Booker has also hired Joel Benenson, who conducted polling for Lautenberg, and the senator's former media consulting firm, Message and Media.

Josh Lautenberg said he had spoken to both Roginsky and Gill, and there were no hard feelings about the hires.

"I wish them well. They're smart people, and Cory Booker was smart and logical to hire them," he said.

Lautenberg said he expects many "dear friends" of his father to support Pallone, though he declined to offer names.

In the statement announcing the endorsement, the Lautenberg family urged voters to "stick with Frank" and made several thinly veiled criticisms of Booker. 

"Frank Pallone, like our Frank, will put in the hours and hard work necessary to fight for New Jersey in the Senate," the family said. "And Frank Pallone knows that gimmicks and celebrity status won’t get you very far in the real battles that Democrats face in the future."

The endorsement wasn't a surprise, but it is still a high-profile snub of Booker, who is leading New Jersey Senate polls by a wide margin.

Pallone had a close relationship in Congress with Lautenberg, while Booker had angered the senator in January when he indicated publicly that be might run for Senate before Lautenberg had announced his intentions for 2014.

Booker's decision was made, in part, out of necessity, to allow a Democrat to enter the gubernatorial race in time after he decided not to challenge New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R).

But it was seen by many Democrats, and Lautenberg himself, as disrespectful to the incumbent and an attempt at nudging him out of office before he was ready.

Lautenberg announced in February he would not run. He died in June. Christie named Jeff Chiesa (R), New Jersey's attorney general, as interim senator until the Oct. 16 special election. The primary is Aug. 13. 

Though Lautenberg didn't tell his family members directly that he'd like them to endorse Pallone, his son said "he fully expected that Frank Pallone and others would run, and said to me many times that he would be very proud to have Frank Pallone replace him."

"I would say that if my father were here today, he would very clearly and confidently endorse Frank Pallone," he said.

Josh Lautenberg explained that, more than the early announcement, it was "the way Booker's handled himself" that grated on his father.  

Booker has been criticized by some for leaning too heavily on his national profile and celebrity relationships and not spending enough time working in Newark.

His opponents have made indirect jabs at his star power, and the Lautenberg family echoed them in their statement.

"While it may not always attract glamorous headlines," they said, "Frank [Pallone] knows that to be effective, you must put New Jersey and your principles first, not your own glory."

Pallone has begun to frame Booker as insufficiently loyal to the Democratic Party, as evidenced by his friendship with Christie and his work with, and defense of, the business community.

Lautenberg's family carried that message in their statement, suggesting that voters "may be surprised to find out that not all of [the Senate candidates] share core Democratic values or loyalty to the party."

Booker spokesman Kevin Griffis dismissed the knocks.

"Mayor Booker's record in Newark speaks for itself. So we'll be running on that record and the advancements that've been made in fighting crime, bringing businesses to Newark and the investments that have been made in the city's public school system," he said.

Booker remains the clear front-runner in the race, leading his Democratic primary opponents by significant double-digit margins in every poll of the field. Democrats are favored to retain the seat.

This story was originally posted at 10:03 a.m. and has been updated.