By David Cruz
Sen. Cory Booker was doing his best to sound like the guy running from the outside, rather than the establishment candidate with a multimillion dollar war chest and support that goes all the way to the White House.
“I am proud to say to all of New Jersey that my name is Cory Booker,” he said before a crowd of nearly 100 at the Perth Amboy Marina. “I am a product of this state. I am your United States senator and today I announce that I am running for reelection.”
With his mother and his siblings by his side, Booker kicked off his campaign with appearances in Camden, Bergen and Middlesex counties, covering his geographic bases while his opponent, Republican Jeff Bell took the opportunity to raise money out of state.
“I think the important thing is to make it clear to voters that there is a choice, that my candidacy represents a chance for change and to restore the economic growth that we had in the 1980s and 90s,” said Bell, “whereas he thinks the federal reserve holding interest rates down and making no interest to savers is something that should be continued.”
Bell supports a return to the gold standard and has made the economy a cornerstone of his campaign. The Republican first ran for U.S. Senate back in 1978 (unsuccessfully) against Bill Bradley, who Booker calls a mentor. In a surprisingly pointed attack on the underdog, Booker accused Bell of abandoning New Jersey and being an obstacle to progress.
“He is not about creating bipartisan compromise,” snapped Booker. “He is not about reaching across the aisle and getting things done. He literally wrote the book — I’m not exaggerating — making the case for political polarization, making the case that we should be rigid in our ideology and not compromise to get things done.”
Bell pointed to his work in the 1980s when he says he helped pass an income tax cut. “I worked with Bill Bradley to cut the top tax rate in this country from as high as 70 to 28 percent,” he said. “I know a lot about bipartisanship and right now President Obama is the biggest barrier to bipartisanship, which Sen. Booker really doesn’t acknowledge.”
Booker challenged Bell to debates; so far only one has been scheduled. Gov. Chris Christie said last month that he was all in for Bell, suggesting that Booker — his good buddy — could be ripe for the picking.
“[Bell] hasn’t been here as a candidate since 1978,” said the governor, “so I think it’s kind of an interesting race to be looking at when it’s that small a margin backed up with the fact that Sen. Booker won by a smaller than expected margin in the special election last October, so it’s definitely something that I’m looking at.”
As for criticism that he underperformed in his last election, Booker said he’ll leave discussion of that to the pundits, but his staff says that they plan to run hard through November, even if it means having to break a sweat against an under-funded and much lesser known opponent.