Newark Mayor Cory Booker won the Democratic primary Tuesday and is now favored to win the New Jersey Senate special election in October.
Booker held off three other elected officials in the no-drama, two-month sprint to win the low-turnout nomination fight with relative ease. Less than an hour after polls closed, Booker led with 56 percent of the vote when The Associated Press called the race with just 7 percent of precincts reporting.
Trailing Booker was Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. with 25 percent, Rep. Rush D. Holt with 14 percent and state Speaker Sheila Oliver with 4 percent.
In the Oct. 16 special to fill the remaining term of the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, Booker faces Republican nominee Steve Lonegan. In the GOP primary, Lonegan, a legally blind conservative activist and former mayor of a small borough in Bergen County, handily defeated Alieta Eck, a physician and first-time candidate.
Beyond his financial advantage and personal popularity, Booker is a heavy favorite thanks to the state’s strong Democratic lean in federal elections. President Barack Obama won the state with 58 percent in 2012, and no Republican has been elected to the Senate from New Jersey in four decades.
The race is rated Safe Democratic by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
After Gov. Chris Christie set the special-election date in early June — a day after Lautenberg died of viral pneumonia — Booker entered the race as the instant front-runner. He boasted a national profile and was able to count on well-connected friends in the political, entertainment and tech worlds for support.
When it came to fundraising, he left the competition in the dust. After filing with the Federal Election Commission in January, Booker raised $8.6 million through July 24, the end of the pre-primary fundraising period.
Booker’s name identification advantage, impressive campaign team and the short time frame of the race allowed the mayor to cruise into primary day with his margin of victory and potential fit in the Senate the only lingering questions.
Deeper dives into Booker’s finances, including details of a sizable stake in an Internet company called Waywire and the annual payouts he reportedly received since leaving his former law firm didn’t surface until the last week of the race and apparently had no bearing on the end result.
Pallone’s endorsement by the Lautenberg family and Holt’s background as a nuclear physicist never provided the spark both needed. The special-election clock ran out on them, but they have options for 2014: seek re-election to the House or challenge the eventual winner of this Senate seat for a full term.