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Booker's Boardwalk Bid for Senate

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Booker is building a grass-roots infrastructure with Obama alumni for his Senate bid. Pallone, who had more than $3 million in the bank at the end of March, is the only other candidate who registered in double-digits in any of the polls so far.

There may be just one thing that stands between Cory Booker and victory in the Garden State’s special election for a Senate seat: the Jersey Shore.

A trio of polls released in the first week of the race offered a snapshot of the lengthy head start the Newark mayor enjoys against three other Democrats vying for the nomination. But his campaign will be banking on a motivated volunteer effort to ensure that support manifests into votes in the likely low-turnout mid-August primary.

“Half the state” will be “down the shore” when the Aug. 13 primary arrives, said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

In the past week alone, Booker reeled in the endorsement of party power broker George Norcross, embarked on a lucrative West Coast fundraising trip and hired a campaign team with presidential credentials. The populist mayor, who is already pulling in majority support in surveys, is no doubt the one to beat for the seat of late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, who died June 3.

Still, few Garden State Democrats — including Booker’s own campaign, which wants its grass-roots army in high gear — are ready to anoint the undisputed front-runner as the next senator. That’s especially so with a midsummer primary and three legitimate opponents standing in the way: Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. and Rush D. Holt and state Speaker Sheila Oliver.

“Obviously Booker may be seen as having a real leg up simply because he is so much better known statewide than the other candidates,” Redlawsk said. “But anyone who tells you right now that they know who is going to show up is just crazy.”

As his campaign was filing its petition on June 10 with more than 8,000 signatures — eight times the number needed, and by far the most among the Democrats running — Booker was on a two-day fundraising trip to California. He’ll need that cash on tap not only to run ads in the New York and Philadelphia media markets, but also to afford a top-notch campaign team that can assure his voters get to the polls.

Booker quickly signed up top New Jersey media firm Message & Media and the lead pollster for President Barack Obama’s campaigns, Benenson Strategy Group. On June 14, Booker announced the hiring of fledgling grass-roots organizing firm 270 Strategies, which is led by two top operatives from the Obama campaign: Mitch Stewart and Jeremy Bird.

“We are going to be moving quickly to build the kind of grass-roots infrastructure that’s necessary to make sure that we identify and then mobilize our supporters,” Booker spokesman Kevin Griffis told CQ Roll Call.

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