Lost in the news about the final shutdown showdown was Cory Booker’s 11-point win over Steve Lonegan in the New Jersey’s special Senate election yesterday.
Lonegan was always a long shot. Booker gained national attention in 2009 and 2010 for personally shoveling snow for his constituents and allegedly saving one of them from a fire. A big Booker win wasn’t only inevitable, it was the likely first step in things to come: He was the Democrats’ next rising star. Known for being a primary opponent to Chris Christie, Lonegan was best known for his outspoken conservative activism – the type of sacrificial lamb a party runs when they know they are going to lose. In June, Vega$ might have put the spread at, say, 19 1/2 points – and they might have started taking will-he-or-won’t-he Booker bets for 2016.
Lonegan was unsuccessful, but fierce. He and his allies managed to crawl within 11 points (despite a bawdy interview from his campaign’s head consultant coming out the weekend before the election), and in the process showed Booker’s made-for-TV story is, well, made for TV. His drug dealer friend T-Bone? Most likely fiction. The story where a young man died in his arms? Not exactly how he remembered it. That woman he saved from a fire? Highly questionable. The city that calls him mayor is deeply infected with violent crime. He used to own a crack house.
After his first real election, Booker is already damaged goods. The playbook to beat him – either in 2014 or in 2016 – has been written. He’ll likely win re-election to the Senate, but it won’t be a slam dunk if the Republican Party of New Jersey fields a good candidate. Martin O’Malley, Hilary Clinton, or any other Presidential contenders from the left have plenty of ammunition now. Booker has lost the veneer of inevitability that he enjoyed, and shown that he isn’t the powerhouse he once seemed to be.
Sure, Cory Booker won this week – but that may be all he gets, thanks to Steve Lonegan.