POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Race for Lautenberg’s Senate Seat Could Be Crowded

By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
NJ Today

Not so fast, Cory Booker.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver says she’s now interested in Frank Lautenberg’s Senate seat.

Senate President Steve Sweeney says there could be a collision ahead.

“I know Congressman [Frank] Pallone’s interested. I’ve said I have an interest in it. And the other day the Speaker said she’s interested,” Sweeney said. “So I’ll be perfectly honest with you, unless it’s Sen. Lautenberg — and a lot of people have respect for Sen. Lautenberg — that one might cause people to pause, but otherwise it looks like it’ll be a contested seat.”

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“We’ve got Pallone, we’ve got [Rush] Holt, we’ve got a number of other people who have an interest in that seat. So I don’t know that he just gets a free ride at all,” said Bonnie Watson Coleman.

A Lautenberg staffer insists the senator has made no decision about next year yet and says of Booker, “We think this is being handled in a very disrespectful way.”

On Meet the Press yesterday, Booker explained his filing of exploratory papers last week in a way that seemed cognizant that there is resentment against him in some Democratic quarters.

“You have to file the papers even to do research on the issue, even to do travel on the issue, so we’re complying with the law before we do any exploration of the Senate run. We’ve gotta file to set up an account, but that’s my intention, but it’s over a year away and a lot’s gonna change between now and then,” Booker said.

Oliver was unavailable today but former state party chair Watson Coleman says she’d make a fabulous candidate and that Booker disappointed her by not running for governor.

The Lautenberg staffer said Booker announced too early for Senate.

Sen. Ron Rice, a longtime Booker opponent, agrees.

“He started off wrong. I think he offended one of our Democrats who’s done a lot for people. I think that’s why he’s backing up now. It doesn’t mean he’s not going to run, but it’s called damage control because he offended a lot of people in both parties, to be quite frank,” Rice said.

Newark Assemblyman Alfred Coutinho, a Booker ally, says Booker is trying to be deferential to the veteran senator while still doing what’s necessary to start raising money.

“It is somewhat an uncomfortable situation with Sen. Lautenberg who’s been a lion for the Democratic party for the state of New Jersey. But there does come a window of opportunity and I do believe Mayor Booker’s making the appropriate decision,” Coutinho said.

But he too acknowledges there will be competition.

“Especially if Sen. Lautenberg chooses not to run, you’re gonna have an open seat, there are gonna be plenty of candidates,” Coutinho said.

There’s a lot of posturing going on around this U.S. Senate race. The fact remains Booker led Lautenberg by 21 points in a poll just last week.