The gap is closing, the race getting closer, and the real question at this point is whether Democrat Cory Booker can hold to the shreds of what remains of his once-significant lead over Republican Steve Lonegan, supposed underdog, now down at or below ten percentage points, with the special election tomorrow, Wednesday, October 16th, 2013 here in New Jersey. Lonegan now leads among independents, with enough undecided or uncommitted voters to put him ahead.
Lonegan's rags-to-riches story has been helping some: legally blind child from a working class family who built his own business and became the successful Republican mayor of a normally Democratic New Jersey community, now running for national office, as contrasted with Booker's wealthy elite parentage (IBM executives), ivy league education (Yale Law School), and celebrity connections. Lonegan has capitalized some on this last, identifying Booker as the "Hollywood candidate", the one supported by Oprah Winfrey, Ben Affleck, Steven Spielberg, Mark Zuckerberg, and other celebrities. There is some merit to the charge--an estimated seventy-seven percent of Booker's over eleven million dollars in support have come from outside New Jersey. Lonegan's considerably smaller one million and change also shows some support from outside the state, but not nearly so dramatically.
Lonegan has also been helped by some celebrity support of his own, as former Vice Presidential candidate and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin visited New Jersey over the weekend, joining her endorsements with previous statements by Senator Rand Paul, Governor Chris Christie, and radio host Mark Levin. The race is now beginning to be seen as a referendum on the government shutdown (which both candidates decry, but blaming the opposing party), and indeed the election of a Republican from New Jersey at this point would have enough meaning that President Obama has released a video asking people to vote for Booker.
Women still favor the charismatic Booker, but he has suffered a number of setbacks. His father died late last week, and although it was not unexpected it was both unfortunate timing and a sad moment. Meanwhile, a stripper at a club in Oregon revealed a private Twitter® conversation she had had with Booker. This, though, was trouble for both camps, as Lonegan fired his top campaign adviser for making some lewd public comments about it and Booker's people asserted that there was nothing damning in the conversation (Booker is forty-four, never married, and not dating). There were also allegations (in the liberal Salon) of corruption in Booker's financial activities (failing to report ownership of a company, receiving payouts from a firm for which he previously worked which received city contracts), and even his residency (several Newark residences prove to be empty). Meanwhile, it is asserted that in Newark unemployment and crime have both risen during Booker's tenure as Mayor; Lonegan's tenure as Mayor of Bogota was successful enough that he led a Republican government there for a decade and lowered taxes.
Perhaps less dramatically but more significantly, many voters perceive Booker as more interested in seizing the national spotlight that comes with being a United States Senator than with serving New Jersey. His approval rating, although still strong, has been falling, while Lonegan's has been rising.
Both candidates were campaigning heavily this past last weekend, but the question at this point may be whether Republicans or Democrats are more determined to vote in a special election.
Make sure you vote tomorrow; the nation is watching.