Booker likely headed to Senate after blowout New Jersey primary victory

Newark Mayor Cory Booker easily won the New Jersey Senate Democratic primary on Tuesday night, more than doubling his nearest opponent's share of the vote at the time the race was called. [WATCH VIDEO]

With just seven percent of precincts reporting, Booker took 57 percent of the vote to Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.'s 25 percent, Rep. Rush Holt's 14 percent and state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver's 4 percent support.

Republican Steve Lonegan, former mayor of Bogota who twice before ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for governor, won the Republican primary with more than 80 percent of the vote. The Associated Press has called both races.

Booker emerged from a relatively sleepy primary campaign well-poised to defeat Lonegan and enters the general election campaign the heavy favorite.

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His task, now, will be to stem a steady drip of negative press he's received in recent days over his connections to the tech and business worlds.

But even if Lonegan continues to seize on those reports as evidence Booker is too beholden to outside special interests to serve the people of New Jersey, Republicans are unlikely to be able to counteract the blue lean of the state, and Booker's star power and deep campaign coffers.

A Booker win was seen as so inevitable by Washington Democrats that Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director Guy Cecil tweeted, prior to the AP calling the race, that "@CoryBooker is going to be a great addition to the Senate. Looking forward to working together."

Buoyed by help from celebrity friends and acquaintances like Oprah Winfrey, actress Eva Longoria and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — with Winfrey hosting a fundraiser and Longoria stumping for him — Booker raised $8.6 million for his campaign by the end of July.


That sum allowed him to go on air earlier and with more ads than any other candidate in the race, positive spots that featured him touting his problem-solving acumen and record as mayor of Newark.

During the primary, Booker faced few on-the-nose attacks from his Democratic opponents.

While Holt and Pallone both pledged to close the considerable lead Booker had shown in polling from the outset, their campaigns were hobbled by a lack of funds and a short time span in which to establish a solid organization.

And, wary of producing a weakened candidate for the general election, neither pursued particularly harsh lines of criticism toward Booker.

Pallone, instead, characterized himself as a working-class everyman in an attempt to make an implicit contrast with Booker's celebrity, and Holt argued he was the "true progressive" in the race in hopes of drawing focus to Booker's positions in favor of school choice and his support from Wall Street donors.

The four candidates only met on stage once, in a televised debate a week before the primary, and though all three of his primary opponents turned their focus to Booker, the attacks were too late to make much of an impact on his lead.

Lonegan has said, looking toward the general election, he'll seek to nationalize the race, hitting Booker on ObamaCare and the National Security Agency surveillance programs, among other Obama administration policies. But he'll have a hard sell in New Jersey, where Obama won with nearly 60 percent support in 2012.

Booker so easily waltzed to the nomination, and subsequently, a likely seat in the Senate, because of the outsize profile he cultivated as one of President Obama's most prolific and prominent surrogates in 2012.

He's cultivated fans and admirers far and wide through social media, and is known for tweeting daily aphorisms to his more than 1.2 million followers, as well as promises to help local Newarkians who plead for his aid via the social media platform.

But he may face some trouble adjusting to the pace and profile of the Senate, where seniority rules and any one junior senator — no matter their social media following — is hard-pressed to hold sway over bill-crafting and passage.

He told USA Today earlier this month, however, that he expects he'll "be able to have an impact that a freshman senator usually won’t have," and plans to hit the campaign trail for his fellow senators.

He touted "the ability to rack up favors with people now that are asking me to campaign in tough states from Kentucky to Louisiana, but also experience in working across the aisle on issues because I’ve conservative bona fides, because I’ve been working with their think tanks on practical projects in Newark as well" as skills he'll bring to the Senate.

Already, Senate leaders seem to be courting his favor: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) both gave $10,000 to Booker's campaign from their leadership PACs, according to Bloomberg.

Booker, however, has battled charges that he's more of a "show-horse than a work-horse," as Josh Lautenberg, son of the deceased Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), whom Booker will likely replace, put it shortly after endorsing Pallone.

National Republicans have already latched onto that line of attack — National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said in a statement congratulating Lonegan on his win that "the last thing the Senate needs is another show horse who is more concerned with self-promotion than governing."

"New Jersey voters have a very distinct choice for the United States Senate. Cory Booker has been focused solely on building his Twitter following, rather than his responsibilities to Newark — ignoring an unemployment rate that has nearly doubled and a skyrocketing crime rate under his watch," Moran added.

Lonegan could cause problems for national Republicans, however. His propensity for campaign-trail gaffes may draw him off-message and could be used by national Democrats against Republicans.

Already, a Democratic super-PAC, American Bridge 21st Century, blasted out a video calling Lonegan "the face of the 'new' GOP," highlighting controversial comments Lonegan previously made opposing Superstorm Sandy relief and calling his race as "a white guy running in the state of New Jersey" a "handicap," among others.

While prominent Democrats have expressed excitement over Booker's probable election to the Senate and the national career it could launch, he'll likely have to balance his political aspirations with an awareness of those critics — and a hefty dose of hard work to quiet them.

If Booker wins in October as expected, he'll serve out the remainder of Lautenberg's term and run again for a full term in 2014, which he's again favored to win. His election to the Senate would return a 10-seat majority to Democrats in the upper chamber, with Republicans needing to win six seats to take back control.

—This report was updated at 11:02 p.m.

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