Handicapping the U.S. Senate race

The Democrats

Newark Mayor Cory Booker

Pros: Booker has national name recognition generally enjoyed only by rock stars, athletes and Republican governors named Chris.  He’s built his knight in shining armor persona over the years with savvy public relations and an innate ability to stay above the fray.  What was once thought to be a weakness – poor executive skills, will have little bearing on the U.S. Senate race.  Booker also has spent the past six months raising money, giving him almost $2 million in the bank for the truncated campaign.  That’s second only to U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone and should be enough to see him through. What’s more, his ties to Hollywood and Wall Street should ensure his coffers remain full.

Cons: At the moment there aren’t many.  His lack of infrastructure could be an issue as he tries to create a ground game from scratch.  He is reportedly courting the establishment as we speak to remedy that situation.  He ruffled some feathers in the early going by stepping on the shoulders of 89-year-old Sen. Frank Lautenberg as he began his political ascent and he has gone through communications staff and fundraisers at a remarkable clip.  But with just two months until the primary, Booker’s internal campaign foibles are less likely to be an issue.  Saying organized labor is not in Booker’s camp is probably an understatement.

Path to victory: Smile a lot and stay out of trouble. With polls showing Booker up by huge margins over his challengers, the race, at this point, is his to lose.  That said, should Booker stumble, there’s always…

 

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone

Pros: Pallone is a wily veteran who has served in Congress since 1988.  His district cuts through Middlesex, Monmouth and a small portion of Union County and while his name recognition isn’t anywhere near Booker’s rarefied air, 25 years in Congress gives him a solid base.  At last count, Pallone, a staunch progressive, had over $3 million in the bank, a nice nest egg he’ll no doubt use to define Booker and boost his own cred.  He’s run large-scale campaigns before and will have a solid ground game, aided by his deep labor support and organizational ties.  The short window actually gives Pallone a boost as he’s facing a different Booker than he would in a year when both men expected to be running.

Cons: Frank who? With a two-month ramp-up, explaining who you are to voters in Cumberland County is a stretch, but that said, an August primary means only the die-hards are coming out to the polls anyway. The presence of U.S. Rep. Rush Holt in the race has some thinking Pallone, Holt and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver will battle for – and split – the anti-Booker vote.  Insiders say he runs the risk of becoming the next Steve Rothman by running a negative primary.

Path to victory: A Booker stumble and a huge labor effort.  He’ll need his $3 million to try to drag Booker’s favorables down by capitalizing on the mayor’s cozy relationship with Christie. If he’s unable to capitalize look for…

 

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt

Pros: A policy wonk who once beat a computer at Jeopardy, Holt is the smartest guy in virtually any room he is in.  A nuclear physicist, Holt has served in Congress since 1999.  His district is the belt that holds up the state’s pants, spanning nearly the entire waist of the state and cutting through Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties.  He has the bloodline for the upper chamber as his father was a U.S. Senator from West Virginia.  Holt has spent his career fighting for better education and touting Einstein’s Alley, the swath of central Jersey that is home to numerous technology firms.  While his war chest is meager by Booker/Pallone standards, he does have $800,000 in the bank and should be able to mount a ground game.  He’s no neophyte, having won more than one hard fought contest in what was once a competitive congressional district.

Cons: See Frank Pallone.  Holt will no doubt have the same struggle as Pallone, namely boosting name recognition while slapping Booker hard enough to matter.  If he splits the vote with Pallone they cancel each other out leaving a clear road for the Newark mayor.

Path to victory: Let Pallone and Booker beat each other silly, while squeaking in as the alternative.  One insider has dubbed this the “New York Times primary” meaning it will be the state’s educated and engaged voters who pick the candidates.  If true, that’s good news for Holt.  That leaves…

 

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver

Pros: Oliver is a wild card in this race.  She starts the contest with nary a penny in the bank and it’s unclear where her support will come from.  That said, she could pick up the urban vote should such a thing exist in an August primary. Though hardly a household name, she does carry some name recognition owing to more than three years as Speaker of the Assembly.  Oliver said late last year that Booker shouldn’t expect the race to be handed to him and yesterday she reiterated that statement, saying the voters in the state deserve a choice.  She’s got the organizational ties that may be necessary given the short runway to August.

Cons: It’s still unclear what message Oliver is sending with her entry into the race.  Her boss, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, has already pledged support to Booker and she begins the race with nothing in the way of cash. As ‘the other’ black, Essex County politico in the race, she’ll likely be well overshadowed by the Newark mayor.

Path to victory: It’s a longshot.  That may be a little harsh, but only a little.  Which brings us to…

The Republicans

Steve Lonegan

Pros: Lonegan is no stranger to the statewide political run, having already thrown his name in for what seems like every seat that’s come up over the past decade.  He ran a strong race for governor four years ago, garnering 43 percent of the vote against Christie.  He’s got infrastructure and some name I.D. and his conservative base should come through with the money.  He’s engaging, if caustic, and is already working his tail off, submitting a petition Monday with more than 7,000 signatures. Lonegan already has received the backing of at least six GOP county chairmen.

Cons: Hard to see many in the primary.  His views are far right, but hey, it’s a primary… in August.  Lonegan is what is known in political circles as a perennial candidate, which could give some voters pause.

Path to victory: Like Booker, stay out of trouble. Lonegan needs to stick to his base and appeal to small-government conservatives.  Should he fail to do that, there’s…

 

Alieta Eck

Pros: Those who met her for the first time this week said she’s engaging and self assured.  A medical doctor who provides low-cost care to the needy, her opposition to Obamacare is likely to be a key issue and could play well with the state’s conservative base.  In 2011, she testified against Obamacare at a Congressional hearing, using her own experience in providing low-cost care as an example of a more efficient and less intrusive alternative to the president’s plan.

Cons: Many insiders reacted to news of her candidacy with a question. “Who?”

Path to victory:  Eck may benefit from Lonegan fatigue.  Lonegan, who runs the local chapter of Americans for Prosperity, is a regular on the campaign circuit and Eck could convince voters it’s time for a different conservative voice.

Handicapping the U.S. Senate race