Republican Steve Lonegan defeated Alieta Eck decisively in the U.S. Senate primary race. He now faces a campaign against Democrat Cory Booker, which many say will be a difficult win considering it’s been decades since New Jersey sent a Republican to fill a U.S. Senate seat. Lonegan sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss his primary victory and what’s coming up next in his bid for senator.
More Democrats than Republicans turned out for the primary, but Lonegan said a terrific, energized Republican base still turned out. “We saw that last night at our campaign victory party. The room was packed. The energy was off the chart,” he said.
Part of Lonegan’s victory speech included use of the Patrick Henry line, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Lonegan explained the situation Henry rallied against is similar to some aspects of life today.
“He was taking on a foreign power that was using general warrants to go into the homes of colonists and go into their papers and their personal effects and their houses to collect data, what we now call data. And that’s what you see happening in this country right now with the NSA and the IRS. So yes, in many, many ways our Constitution is on the line and so is our Bill of Rights,” he said. “And this election is gonna be very much focused on those issues.”
Lonegan said Booker is an advocate of bigger government spending and more debt while he wants to cut the size of government to enable Americans to reach their potential.
Lonegan also said he doesn’t like the idea that Booker has become a favorite of celebrities. “It’s deeply concerning that we have these Hollywood elites stepping down and descending from their penthouse apartments in the Bel-Air Hotel in the heights of the hills to tell New Jersey who the next senator’s gonna be,” he said.
Gov. Chris Christie called Lonegan after his win last night and left him a message while he was on stage. Lonegan said he has spoken with Christie’s staff and Sen. Jeff Chiesa about his candidacy. “As soon as we can connect, I’m sure we’ll be off to the races. I’m looking forward to campaigning with Gov. Christie, with Sen. Chiesa, with the entire Republican Party,” he said.
Lonegan was quoted as saying his primary opponent was willing to be an advisor of sorts, but Eck said today that wasn’t exactly the case. “I got a nice call from Dr. Eck and I thanked her very much for the call. I asked her if she would come on board and advise me on her health care knowledge to help round out my talking points and she said she would,” Lonegan explained.
But Eck told NJ Today that the tenor of Lonegan’s campaign is different than what she feels comfortable with. “If her tenor was better, she would’ve won,” Lonegan said.
Lonegan has been known for his conservative political beliefs, but he wasn’t endorsed by Tea Party groups in the primary. He said he wasn’t surprised by the lack of their endorsement. “There’s all kinds of different people. Nothing in politics surprises me, Mike,” he said. “All I know is I have to focus on beating Cory Booker because this race in New Jersey is gonna define the U.S. Senate races for 2014. The whole country’s gonna be watching our race. I’m committed to fighting it out on the issues that are affecting this state and this nation. That’s what’s important to me.”
It’s been decades since a Republican was elected to a U.S. Senate seat. Lonegan said he has already started getting all facets of the party together behind him in his campaign. “You’re seeing it already in the vote that came out yesterday and the energy on the ground and the people that are raising money for me, that are stepping up to the plate, that are energized about recognizing one thing — the opposition’s on the other side of the battlefield,” he said. “The other thing we have to do, Mike, is we have to cleave off those conservative Democrats that we used to call Reagan Democrats and bring them over with our message of limited government and privacy and the Bill of Rights.”
While Lonegan said some of the Democrats who will support Christie might also back him against Booker, he said there are other federal issues at play with a Senate seat. “There’s issues of constitutional rights, Second Amendment rights,” he said, adding that he’s a supporter of the Second Amendment.
He also said he is pro-life in comparison to Booker who has clearly stated his pro-choice stance. “There’s a lot of good, solid union men and women who are pro-life. They’re gonna be with me in this election,” Lonegan said.
Lonegan said he and Booker are on opposite sides of the spectrum on every issue. “Cory Booker made it very clear last night that his three biggest issues in this race are gay marriage, abortion and raising the minimum wage to $10.15 an hour. That would destroy every small business in the state of New Jersey. If you’re a small business and they raise the minimum wage some 30 percent, you might as well close your doors and go home,” he said. “Cory Booker has no idea what it is to run a business. He’s never built a real business. And I have. I know how tough it is out there to build a business and we need to return to small business, not big government and the values on which this country was built. That’s what this election is about.”