By David Cruz
Instant frontrunner Cory Booker will make it official tomorrow, ending days of speculation and setting the stage for what could be a robust, albeit truncated, primary contest for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. Booker, who irked some party leaders last year when he declared his interest in running for the seat in 2014, was silent for most of the week, as other names were floated, including congressmen Rush Holt and Frank Pallone, and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, who had troops out gathering petitions this week.
“There’s no such thing as heir apparent to a U.S. Senate seat,” Oliver told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider.
But getting confirmation from Oliver, Holt or any of the other major names dropped this week proved difficult. Booker was huddling with donors all day, and Pallone, Holt and Oliver were not taking our calls. On the Republican side, former Bogota mayor and, until this week, Americans for Prosperity head Steve Lonegan, was the last man standing in a week that saw top-tier names like minority leaders Sen. Tom Kean, Jr. and Assemblyman Jon Bramnick as well as Sen. Joe Kyrillos, all beg off.
“I gave up a job that I’ve had for 7 years, that was a terrific opportunity for me,” said Lonegan. “I formally terminated that position today to run for the United States Senate. I intend to win this race. I have no option. I don’t intend to be an unemployed loser on August 14.”
A Republican source said the most-talked about names had no interest in running without the governor’s support and that Christie sent a clear signal that he was hands-off when he said nice things about Lonegan this week.
“I don’t think that Steve has been a sharp critic of mine since I’ve been in office,” Gov. Christie said. “In fact, we’ve agreed on much more than we’ve disagreed on since I’ve been in office, and so I would disagree with your characterization off the top and I’m not gonna get into speculating about who is gonna run and who might run and who might not run. People have until Monday, 4 o’clock to collect 1,000 signatures. ”
PolitickerNJ editor Darryl Isherwood says he thinks, in the end, the Democratic field will end up coming down to just two names.
“You know, there’s one school of thought that says Pallone and Holt are going cancel each other out and battle for votes while Booker cruises to victory,” Isherwood said. “But there’s another school of thought that Pallone, given the fact that he’s been running these campaign for years. He’s got a good operation, a good ground game, as they call it, and a lot of money in the bank, but he’s a formidable opponent.”
There are others who may yet enter the race, but on a shortened track, the primary race will likely come down to the best known and the best equipped. The filing deadline is Monday and what’s certain is that the usually sleepy summer will turn out to be anything but.