After what seemed like months, the special election to choose the next U.S. Senator from New Jersey finally occurred this past Wednesday. The winner would complete the final 15 months of the late U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)'s term. The campaign between Newark Mayor Cory Booker and former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan culminated in an 11 point win for Booker. As Election Day progressed and leading up to it, there were two things that seemed clear: that the voting turnout on the day would not be high and that those voting would largely come from either major party's base voters. Based on the closeness of the race down the stretch, the polarized electorate seemed to be shaping polls and the ultimate result as much as anything.
However, the end result and the early advantage that Booker built for himself was shaped by his name recognition and fundraising edge. Despite the low turnout and partisan voting for the most part, Lonegan ultimately could not overtake Booker. A state with more Democratic voters than Republican voters often plays a big role in statewide election. It is tough to stay, but there may have been a near 50/50 breakdown of Democratic/Republican voters which is somewhat unusual. That smaller margin than usual and the timing of election certainly kept things close. The odd middle of October election which impacted the turnout could have kept more Democrats at home than those who will come out in two weeks to vote.
The two candidates would hold election night gatherings as traditionally seen with elections where they would be able to talk to supporters and thank them.
Booker would greet his supporters by stating,
Thank you New Jersey! I’ve heard it all over New Jersey, north to south, urban to suburban to rural, Democrats, independents and Republicans. I heard it from everyone: ‘We put you in Washington, don’t go down there to score victories for a party or politics. Go down there to work for people.’
While Lonegan would voice to his supporters,
Unfortunately for whatever reason, the message we delivered together with so much energy and so much passion did not win the day.
Taking a look at how each county in the state voted, Booker carried 12 counties while Lonegan carried 9 counties. Moreover, here is a more detailed look:
Atlantic County: Booker 50%, Lonegan 49%
Bergen County: Booker 57%, Lonegan 42%
Burlington County: Booker 55%, Lonegan 44%
Camden County: Booker 65%, Lonegan 34%
Cape May County: Lonegan 59%, Booker 40%
Cumberland County: Booker 51%, Lonegan 48%
Essex County: Booker 78%, Lonegan 21%
Gloucester County: Booker 50%, Lonegan 49%
Hudson County: Booker 78%, Lonegan 21%
Hunterdon County: Lonegan 61%, Booker 38%
Mercer County: Booker 66%, Lonegan 32%
Middlesex County: Booker 58%, Lonegan 41%
Monmouth County: Lonegan 54%, Booker 45%
Morris County: Lonegan 56%, Booker 43%
Ocean County: Lonegan 64%, Booker 35%
Passaic County: Booker 59%, Lonegan 40%
Salem County: Lonegan 58%, Booker 41%
Somerset County: Lonegan 50%, Booker 49%
Sussex County: Lonegan 65%, Booker 34%
Union County: Booker 64%, Lonegan 35%
Warren County: Lonegan 65%, Booker 34%
Looking at the breakdowns, Essex and Hudson counties were major wins for Booker. Those two counties' margins of victory might have proved to play possibly the biggest role for him as the rest of the counties almost even out the race.
Lonegan now joins a list of Republicans since 1976. That list includes: David Norcross in 1976, Jeff Bell (who won a GOP primary over U.S. Senator Clifford Case (R-NJ)) in 1978, Millicent Fenwick in 1982, Mary Mochary in 1984, Pete Dawkins in 1988, Christie Todd Whitman in 1990, Garabed "Chuck" Hatyaian in 1994, Richard Zimmer in 1996, Robert Franks in 2000, Doug Forrester in 2002, Tom Kean Jr. in 2006, Richard Zimmer in 2008, Joe Kyrillos in 2012. Most of those losses (1982, 1988, 1994, 2002, and 2008) came against Lautenberg. Possibly the Republicans best chance among all of those elections came in 2002 when Forrester would have likely defeated an embattled Senator Robert Torricelli before he resigned and was replaced by Lautenberg in a bit of a strange procedure.
Some are already beginning to look to 2014. It looks like Lonegan won't challenge Booker and thus a wide open Republican field could emerge at least in terms of speculation as there is usually not a crowded field of Republican hopefuls. Booker's close win of low double digits will likely be overanalyzed as talk about 2014 builds. If you step back and look at the election, the turnout and the electorate being largely base voters played a role in how the vote broke down. Booker will enter next year with an incumbency advantage and a potentially less outspoken opponent who might not fire up the base as well as Lonegan did. However, in a state like New Jersey; a Christie-type of Republican who can manage enough moderate stances while being bombastic at times is someone they could seek to challenge Booker and do what Lonegan fell short at accomplishing. Just as important are those two factors that helped Booker in this race: name recognition and money.
For now, it will be a short wait before the final verifications are finished and Booker will join Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and 98 others in the U.S. Senate. He will be the second African American there along with Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) and becomes the first one from New Jersey. What his role in D.C. and beyond will be is still to be determined, but expect much of the same of what has been seen of him in Newark.