Booker Tops Tea Party Republican to Win U.S. Senate Seat

Newark Mayor Cory Booker beat Tea Party-backed Republican Steven Lonegan in New Jersey’s special U.S. Senate election, after a race the candidates cast as a referendum on the partial federal government shutdown.

Booker topped Lonegan, 55 percent to 44 percent, according to unofficial results from the state Elections Division. The mayor will serve the remaining 15 months of the term of Senator Frank Lautenberg, who died in June, in a capital riven by partisan battles over spending, debt and health care.

“Pundits tell us how little regard we have for Washington and politicians, how cynical we’ve become,” Booker said at a victory rally last night. “It would have been easy to listen to this frustrating negativity and stay home today. But here in New Jersey more than a million people rejected cynicism and came out on a Wednesday, not in November but in the middle of October.”

Booker, 44, won by less than half the margin projected by polls in August as Lonegan narrowed the gap by calling him a champion of costly government, and accusing him of being more focused on gaining the national spotlight than on New Jersey. Lonegan, 57, said congressional Republicans “showed guts’ by forcing the Oct. 1 shutdown over spending. He was embraced by Tea Party groups that favor limited government.

Ending Gridlock

‘‘This election was a rejection of a destructive Tea Party agenda that shut down the government and threatened default on our bills,’’ Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a U.S. representative from Florida and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said in a statement. Booker’s ‘‘arrival on Capitol Hill will mean another vote to put gridlock aside.’’

Congress ended the shutdown and extended the nation’s borrowing limit last night, breaking the logjam and handing Democrats led by President Barack Obama a clear victory.

New Jersey’s Elections Division will review official results from each of the 21 county clerks and the Board of State Canvassers will certify the results on or before Nov. 13, said Donna Barber, the state’s manager of elections. Senate leaders will decide when to seat Booker.

Fundraising Edge

Voters in New Jersey haven’t elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1972. Booker, a darling of Wall Street executives and West Coast technology entrepreneurs, raised $11.5 million during the race, compared with Lonegan’s $1.36 million.

‘‘We came well closer to winning this election than anyone expected,” Lonegan told supporters last night in Bridgewater. He thanked Chris Christie, who wasn’t in the audience, saying the Republican governor had done “everything short of going door-to-door and putting up lawn signs.”

Christie, 51, who is seeking a second term, set an August primary and an October special election for the Senate seat after Lautenberg died from pneumonia at age 89. Christie installed Jeffrey Chiesa, a Republican, as a temporary replacement who didn’t campaign for the seat.

While Christie said the schedule was made to fill the post as quickly as possible, Democrats said it was designed to keep the popular Booker off the November ballot and help the governor secure a wider victory margin. Christie led his Democratic challenger, state Senator Barbara Buono, by 29 percentage points in a Quinnipiac University poll released today. He is a potential 2016 candidate for president.

Low Turnout

Twenty-four percent of New Jersey’s 5.5 million registered voters cast ballots yesterday, according to the state tally. That’s half the 48 percent who voted in 2006, the last year a U.S. Senate race topped the ballot. That election was held in November on Election Day.

Booker, a prolific Twitter user with 1.4 million followers on the social media website, cast himself himself as a new kind of politician who would bring change to Washington. His campaign seized on Lonegan’s support for Republican politicians such as U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who he blamed for the shutdown.

He’s the first black U.S. senator from New Jersey, and the state will become the second ever to have two non-white senators serving together. Democrat Robert Menendez, New Jersey’s senior senator, is Cuban-American. Hawaii has had two Asian-American lawmakers serving side-by-side for most of its history, though not at the moment.

“I have no illusions about what one senator can do,” Booker said last night. “I am going down to make the Senate more accessible to all of us. I am going down to bring more voice to the voiceless.”

Food Stamps

A Rhodes Scholar and Yale University-educated lawyer who moved to Newark in 1996, Booker spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and helped lead its platform committee. He gained national attention last year for saving a neighbor from a fire and for living on food stamps for a week to show the difficulty of relying on the government-assistance program.

His efforts to add development and reduce crime in New Jersey’s largest city lured investments from Facebook Inc. co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and hedge-fund managers including Bill Ackman and Leon Cooperman. Booker was endorsed by Obama, and several celebrities gave him financial backing and campaign assistance, including Oprah Winfrey and actress Eva Longoria.

Lonegan failed in bids for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998 and for governor in 2005 and 2009. From 1996 to 2008 he was mayor of Bogota, a Democratic-leaning borough of 8,000 people six miles (10 kilometers) west of Manhattan. He used the job as a platform for smaller government, successfully suing the state in 2003 to require voter approval of bond sales.

Shutdown Politics

Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville, said yesterday’s election was “a vote as much for a certain kind of politics as much as for any party or personality.”

“The shutdown framed the last two weeks of this race and very clearly New Jerseyans voted against those who shunned compromise,” Dworkin said. He said Booker’s win showed the state’s voters favor politicians willing to compromise.

Dworkin said he expects the state to back Christie’s re-election by a large margin in three weeks. Both Booker and the governor have worked with opposition politicians, he said.

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