New Jersey’s Special Senate Election: The Sharpest Contrast in views

By John Musso
The voters of New Jersey will be asked to pick between two candidates to represent them for the next 14 months in the United States Senate on Wednesday, October 16. These two candidates, Democratic Mayor of Newark Cory Booker and Republican former Mayor of Bogota Steve Lonegan, provide a clear choice between two starkly different ideologies and each could have a notable effect on national public policy for their term. While this election has gotten little press coverage compared to the gubernatorial election and other Senate elections in recent history, the impact it could have on New Jersey demands much more attention.

An explanation of how this Senate election was called in necessary to explain the importance of the race. After the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg on June 3, Governor Chris Christie announced that he intends to call a special election as soon as possible according to state law, which was put at Wednesday, October 16. Christie was criticized for calling a special election three weeks before the general election on Nov. 5, believing his reason for calling a separate election was to keep his margin of victory in the Nov. 5 gubernatorial election as large as possible. However, he attests that he called the special election so two elected Senators could again represent New Jersey as quickly as possible.
As a result of such an abbreviated campaign, few candidates were able to create and gather the funds and campaign network to run for the vacant seat. This allowed Cory Booker, who was planning to run for Lautenberg’s seat in the regular 2014 election and had statewide name recognition, to sweep the Democratic primary on August 13. Similarly, Steve Lonegan, former mayor of Bergen county borough of Bogota utilized his extensive conservative activist network and name recognition from two previous gubernatorial runs, plus a lack of better-known candidates, to win the Republican primary in a landslide against unknown anti-Obamacare activist Alieta Eck.
For people who don’t believe that a single senator can change national policy, it should be reminded that first-term Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) led a filibuster to protest military drone strikes that started a nationwide discussion on the balance between liberty and security. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) has also proven to be a force in the Senate after only a few months, demanding federal action on student loan interest rates and proposing to break up banks that separate traditional banking services from risky activities such as mortgages. A single Senator can have plenty of influence on the national stage.
Another major reason this election is not getting much attention is because of Booker’s large lead in the polls, currently a 17.2% lead according to the most recent RealClearPolitics average. “I’ve seen his opponent [Lonegan] in the news, but I don’t see much of him. I’ve also seen the polls and how Booker is winning by so much-I just don’t see him [Lonegan] as a threat to Booker,” said senior Hansel Romeo, a Booker supporter. However, considering the extremely low turnout for the election, as well as Lonegan’s better than expected performance in an October 4 debate, that lead could conceivably shrink rapidly.
Lonegan and Booker’s primary victory set up one of the sharpest contrasts between two major candidates for statewide office in New Jersey in a very long time. On most issues there seems to be a chasm between the views of the two candidates-Booker is a steadfast supporter of same-sex marriage, while Lonegan is a supporter of the traditional definition of marriage and supported the Defense of Marriage Act, which barred same-sex couples residing even in states that permitted same-sex marriage to not be recognized as spouses for federal benefits and tax purposes. On minimum wage laws, Booker has supported a $10.10 minimum wage law that he says would make minimum wage much easier for poor families to live off of. In contrast, Lonegan has said he thinks there should be no minimum wage law, saying that a job paying $5 an hour is better than no job at all and would be more beneficial for workers.
And Booker and Lonegan’s disagreements don’t all fall into typical respective liberal and conservative views. On the NSA domestic spying program, for instance, Lonegan is the advocate for civil liberties, saying that the NSA’s domestic programs are a violation of individual liberty and must be dismantled immediately. Booker, while expressing concern about the lack of accountability the NSA has for its programs, does agree in principle that such spying programs are necessary to combat terrorism today.“I think his position is more realistic and balanced. He thinks that what the NSA did was wrong, like spying without a warrant- [Booker agrees] spying is a good tool for security but it has to be used in moderation and with accountability,” said junior Eric Calvo, who volunteered as a staging location director for the Booker campaign in the primary election.
Even the backgrounds and personalities of the two candidates are deeply different. Booker was the son of an IBM executive and graduated from Stanford, Oxford and Yale Universities, working as an attorney before being elected to public office. Booker is known for going above and beyond his duty as mayor, shoveling snow off of constituents’ sidewalks and saving a neighbor from a burning building. Lonegan is a former owner of a cabinet making business and graduate of William Paterson University and Farleigh Dickinson. Lonegan is also known for his confrontational style, claiming he has a handicap for “running as a white guy in the state of New Jersey” and saying Social Security’s spending increases is “the single biggest threat to facing America today.” Booker is known for his aggressive use of social media such as Twitter and his nationwide profile from receiving $1 million in funding for Newark schools from Mark Zuckerberg and appearing on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show. In contrast, Lonegan is extremely low-key and criticizes Booker for focusing on his national image instead of his city and his state. “We need a leader, not a tweeter,” said Lonegan in the Oct. 4 debate.
However, on one of the most important issues of the day, whether or not the US should intervene in Syria (See Opinion pg. 3 for a further discussion on military intervention), Booker and Lonegan are actually quite close in their opinions. Lonegan is adamantly anti-war, and opposes any type of military intervention, saying he “will oppose sending American troops to invade foreign countries unless American interests are threatened directly.” Booker has been somewhat unclear on his view on Syrian intervention, but has stated while feels military intervention is a last resort, but has implied he would support President Obama’s actions if he chooses. “I expect that the president will clearly delineate what the strategic objectives are, and what limited military action will specifically achieve in Syria,” said Booker according to a press release.
Voters of New Jersey must realize that they have a choice on October 16 between two passionate men who disagree tremendously on issues that matter to all citizens, and this election as any has tremendous consequences on the national political sphere. “This is your future. This is someone who will represent your state, you individually and ultimately the American people. You don’t need to know everything about politics, you don’t need to care very much, but you need to realize that choosing who represents you matters,” said Romero. “Without our representatives and without caring about your representatives, our democracy is nothing. “ Hopefully New Jersey voters will recognize the importance of such an election and turn out to have their opinions heard in their congressional representative.