TRENTON – U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) went to Louisiana, North Carolina and Arkansas in recent weeks, all with an eye to saving the country from “hardened ideologues,” even as he enthusiastically befriends the staunchest opponents of his party’s leadership in the U.S. Senate in a demonstration of “bipartisanship.”
In a special 2013 general election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the late Frank Lautenberg, Steve Lonegan brought in U.S. Sen. Rand Paul to campaign with him, supplying a fiery Kentucky twist to his assault on Booker.
A year later, Lonegan is nursing his wounds from a CD3 GOP Primary gone wrong, and Booker ($3 million cash on hand and up for re-election in November), has Paul – and any number of other conservatives – in a smothering embrace.
“I want to build bridges between Republicans and President Obama,” said Booker, identifying where he says he believes he can be helpful in restoring a functioning federal government. “He [Obama] was my friend before he was my president. This is a longstanding positive relationship. Having relationships helps get things done. We have a strategy inclusive of Republicans.”
Now Booker faces gold standard champion Jeff ($4,000 cash-on-hand) Bell in the November general election, and appears to be turning up the charisma in the U.S. Capitol on the likes of Paul, Marco Rubio, Lamar Alexander, and Ted Cruz.
Name an Obama-bashing conservative or Tea Party type, and it’s likely Booker will have a kind word for him in the name of his favorite “Kitchen-table-pocket-book-bread-and-butter-NJ-family” issue.
Senator Jim Inhofe? Booker has his ear on brown-fields remediation.
Paul? Keeping federal law enforcement off the backs of those states with medical marijuana laws.
“I get pumped up,” said the one-time pothole-hounded Newark mayor gone global, when asked about the upper house chamber in the U.S. Capitol and his capacity to reach its gridlocked cast of partisan characters.
“The Simplifying Financial Aid for Students Act of 2014 calls for practical improvements to an application process that is commonly underutilized and often overwhelming for families of the greatest need,” Booker supplied by way of example, selling legislation of his that would return the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) income threshold from $23,000 to $30,000.
“It should never be easier to finance a car or a home than to finance a long-term investment in a young person’s education,” he added. “This legislation includes reform measures that streamline the application process while ensuring that struggling families are able to maximize their eligibility to receive federal grant funding. With so many young college graduates riddled with debt, this is a practical solution that can support our young people and their families.”
And while he smothers the financially challenged Bell’s hopes of revving up those GOP brand names for his cause and seeks the demolition of a challenger last heard from when Bill Bradley blanked him in 1978 , Booker has simultaneously undertaken the political challenge of trying to help the Democratic Party maintain a majority in the U.S. Senate.
Did Bradley, incidentally, give him any pointers on how to ring Bell’s bell?
“Bill Bradley said, ‘at the end of the day: focus on serving people,’” Booker said. “New Jerseyans like public servants.”
In that vein, he’s held six small business forums around the state.
But also in recent weeks, Booker the freshman senator traveled to Louisiana, North Carolina and Arkansas, all with an eye to saving the country from those same “hardened ideologues” he has no trouble working with once they get elected.
“I’m confident,” Booker told PolitickerNJ, reflecting on his party’s chances of keeping a majority. “It’s going to be tough but based on what I’ve seen in three states my confidence is growing.
“I’m a pragmatist,” the senator added. “We don’t want to send down folks who are hardened ideologues.”
Will he make the mistake of campaigning elsewhere while Bell creeps into the public consciousness here and draws him into a closer contest than Blue State Jersey would expect, a la Lonegan 2013?
“Not at all,” the senator insisted, “I’ve got an election” – which in part explains the friendly nullification of those would-be Bell-wether federal pals.