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Booker wants to give Lautenberg ‘space’ to decide on reelection bid

Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker (D) on Monday declined to say if he would mount a primary challenge against Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), saying he wanted to give the long-term senator “space” to decide his plans.

Booker, a rising Democratic star, last month announced that he would explore a run for Senate in 2014. But Lautenberg has yet to announce whether he will seek another term, setting up a potential primary clash if Booker launches a bid for the seat.

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Booker, appearing on CNN’s “Starting Point,” said his focus was on his work as mayor in the coming year.

“I want to give him the space to make his own decision. I’ve announced my decision to run, but the reality is we have a good senator, he’s been loyal, he’s been there for a long time and I think that he’s got a decision to make,” he said.

Booker said that he had reached out to Lautenberg, but that the two had not yet been able to meet personally.

“I’m hoping to focus on my job for now. I hope to talk to him, we’ve reached out to him,” he added.

Pressed if he would primary Lautenberg, the oldest member of the Senate, if he sought another term, Booker demurred. 

“It’s too ... early to talk about those kind of hypotheticals, because he hasn’t made his decision yet,” he said. “I think we’ve got a full year until that hypothetical becomes real. If there’s two things we need right now, it’s a senator down in D.C., and we should all be supporting Lautenberg in tough fights ahead, and we need a mayor in New Jersey’s largest city who is focused on getting his job done.

“I’m a guy who has a deep respect and love for him; he’s given a long degree of service. We should all respect that. This is a lion of our Senate and I want to give him that space,” said Booker.

Lautenberg faced a primary challenge in his last race in 2008, when he bested Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.).

Booker also considered a possible challenge to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), before ultimately deciding to further explore a Senate bid. 

Booker said Monday that he decided not to run against Christie in 2013, because he feared the race would distract from his work in Newark.

“This is going to be my most productive year as mayor,” he said.