New Jersey Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver became the fourth Democrat to announce plans to run in the special election to determine who will finish the term of the late U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg.
Oliver joins U.S. Representatives Frank Pallone and Rush Holt and Newark Mayor Cory Booker in seeking to run in the Oct. 16 election that Governor Chris Christie called after Lautenberg, a five-term Democrat, died on June 3. Today is the deadline to qualify for the Aug. 13 primary ballot.
“This is going to be a campaign for the heart of the Democratic Party,” Pallone said today in Trenton.
In a first look at the Democratic contest, Booker got 53 percent of the vote, followed by 10 percent for Holt and 9 percent for Pallone, according to a poll by Quinnipiac University today. Another 23 percent were undecided. Oliver, of East Orange, wasn’t included in the poll. In a general election matchup, Booker topped former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, one of two Republicans so far to jump in, 54 percent to 27 percent.
Booker, 44, has already received the backing of Democratic leaders, including Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, who attended his announcement over the weekend, and Camden County’s George Norcross, who endorsed the mayor today.
Candidates had to gather signatures from 1,000 registered voters to qualify for the primary. Booker collected more than 7,000, his campaign said in a statement. Lonegan, 57, said he had 7,210. Pallone submitted 3,000 to start and will have more, he said after carrying a cardboard box of signatures into the state Elections Division office.
“Obviously I’m in and excited,” Pallone said. “As Democrats we have to believe we can make a difference.”
Alieta Eck, 62, a Republican physician from Somerset who practices internal medicine, arrived at the elections office with 2,326 signatures. Running on a health-care platform, she said she has a “huge amount of support from the inner city.”
“The government can be a real burden,” Eck said.
Oliver, 60, said she had 3,400 signatures and is running on her appeal to women. “The voters of New Jersey are entitled to have choices,” she said outside the elections office.
Pallone, 61, who has been a congressman for 25 years, declined to compare his record to Booker’s. He said the governor was wrong not to set the special election concurrent with his own contest on Nov. 5.
Christie, 50, a Republican seeking a second term, told reporters today in Trenton that the shortened campaign still will leave the candidates enough time to vet issues, and declined to speculate on the outcome.
“We don’t have anybody who’s come out of the woodwork to run here,” Christie said in his Trenton office earlier today, before Eck had submitted signatures. “The people who’ve announced they’re running thus far are all people who are pretty well-known quantities in this state. So there’s plenty of time.”
Lautenberg, 89, had said in February that he wouldn’t seek a sixth term in 2014. He died of complications from viral pneumonia. Booker, a rising star in the Democratic party, had said in December that he was exploring a run for Lautenberg’s seat instead of challenging Christie’s re-election bid.