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Menendez and Booker: a historic duo for the U.S. Senate

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Last Fall, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) joined Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to give New Jersey an unique pair from the Garden State in the U.S. Senate.

Booker rose to stardom in the political arena during his nearly two terms as mayor of Newark. He was already exploring a run in 2014 for U.S. Senate when Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) passed away last June. That vacancy would speed simply up Booker's ascent to the U.S. Senate.

Eight years earlier, Robert Menendez was a member of New Jersey's congressional delegation when he was selected to replace then-Senator Jon Corzine (D-NJ) who had just become governor of New Jersey. Menendez has gotten through two election cycles in 2006 and 2012 and now sits as the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Booker must quickly defend his new seat much like Menendez did eight years ago when his name appears this November on the ballot.

Booker and Menendez give New Jersey the distinction of being the only state with two minority lawmakers in the U.S. Senate.

With this worthy accomplishment in mind, Andra Gillespie, a political science professor from Emory University, would state;

It shows the relative strength of both the black and Latino electorate in New Jersey politics. New Jersey is a state that has a robust Democratic Party, and you’ve got whites who are willing to vote for candidates of color as well.

Menendez and Booker would also acknowledge what they bring to the U.S. Senate in terms of history.

For Menendez,

As the first Hispanic American senator from New Jersey, I join New Jerseyans in celebrating the historic election of Cory Booker, the first African American senator from our state. I’m proud that we have shown America that our state — and by extension our politics — is, indeed, a melting pot.

For Booker,

They weren’t caring about the color of my skin; they were like, ‘What are you going to do for us? How are you going to help? How are you going to partner? How are you going to bring resources?’ (when referring to his campaign last year). I mean, I love my state for that reason. At the end of the day we are diverse: Indian, Asian, black, white, Latino. And we’re getting more diverse by the second.

Clement Price, a professor of history at Rutgers-Newark, would add;

Menendez and Booker have had an easy time appealing to non-minority voters because they’re images are not too closely tied to the color of their skin. These guys have never siloed themselves in terms of their ethnicity. Cory (has) presented himself as an elected official who reaches across the proverbial aisle. He’s a conglomeration of elements that make him less of black senator than multifaceted in terms of his identity.

And for Jennifer Duffy, the senior editor of the Cook Political Report,

Honestly, I’m not sure it means a lot. Does it mean anything that California, New Hampshire and Washington each have two female senators?

It is certainly note worthy as well that those three states have women as their U.S. Senators and the fact that roughly a fifth of the U.S. Senate is made up of women. Up until 2012, Maine also had two female U.S. Senators.

What elevates the importance of Menendez and Booker is the fact that they represent close to half of the Hispanic or African-American members of the U.S. Senate and the only Democrats with that distinction in the U.S. Senate.

While much of 2013 seemed like a path to Booker becoming the next U.S. Senator from New Jersey, it is still something to celebrate with the rarity of African-Americans winning statewide office.

Gilespie would hit upon that point by expressing,

(You can look) at places like Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi where you’ve got large black populations but they can’t seem to elect black candidates to statewide office. Whites in those states are overwhelmingly Republican.

Ultimately, Booker and Menendez will be linked in New Jersey history long term. But in the short term, they want to leave their mark on New Jersey by uniting under common goals and backgrounds. Both are minorities as already mentioned. They also come from backgrounds as mayors of urban areas and the complex aspects of governing they had to deal with. Menendez has quickly risen to a prominent role within his party and many would say that Booker could surpass Menendez' status over the next five to ten years.

While the two men have a common vision for the country and the state of New Jersey, they also come from different paths to their current position. They are also separated by fifteen years in age and utilize slightly different styles. Menendez has worked hard to get where he is and his Senate colleague could find himself breathing down his tracks among the ranks in their party.

A source would tell PolitickerNJ the following:

It’s always tough for the old guys who have done it the hard way to see the new guy come in and be the first guy who the press calls. Look at Barack Obama. Look at Marco Rubio, who’s not part of the old hierarchy of the Senate, but so attractive to the media. Cory has had a very similar ascendancy, but the reality is there is a fresh new seat in the back of the Senate chamber. Cory will be there for the Senate fundraisers and speaking engagements, as part of their profit-driven hierarchy, if you will, not the Senate hierarchy of the chamber itself, which is where Bob has excelled.

The offices for these senators have provided an optimistic outlook for the Menendez-Booker Senate tandem for the Garden State.

For Mo Butler, Chief of staff to Senator Booker,

We’ve been working over the last couple of years to build a relationship. The mayor was out there being very supportive and consistent and leaning on him (Menendez) for wisdom and guidance. Those guys built a decent rapport and Menendez has been very supportive.

For Paul Brubaker, Menendez’s Statewide Director,

We have an enormous possibility for one of the greatest partnerships in the U.S. Senate. They like each other and work well together. These are two guys who did campaign stops together and enjoyed each other's company.

New Jersey's historical roots in this country go back to its early days and its founding. Revolutionary battles to a couple of the country's national capital locations to being the third state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. This new distinction is added to that list and Menendez and Booker look to leave separate but united legacies as they serve the state and country in the U.S. Senate. Their ascent in the Garden State could lead other states to consider the diverse field of candidates they may want to nominate to create a U.S. Congress that reflects the diverse population of this country.

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