Prominent New Jersey Democrats shied away from an opportunity to
challenge Governor Christie earlier this year, but several leading
members of the party -- including a trailblazing state legislator
and a longtime congressman -- now find themselves in a crowded
primary field to replace the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
That primary will be held on Aug. 16, leaving little fundraising time for the four Democratic candidates who submitted enough signatures to state officials on Monday to qualify for the contest.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, D-Essex, and longtime Rep. Frank Pallone, D-Monmouth, joined the contest Monday, following Mayor Cory Booker of Newark and Rep. Rush Holt, D-Mercer, both of whom said they were in last week.
Early polls give Booker a strong lead over his Democratic opponents, with 55 percent of registered Democratic voters favoring him, according to Rutgers' Eagleton poll. Booker would receive 53 percent of the primary vote, according to a Quinnipiac University survey.
By contrast, Holt and Pallone registered about 10 percent each in both surveys. Oliver was not included in either.
Republicans also will choose a Senate nominee in August, with former Mayor Steve Lonegan of Bogota and Alietta Eck, a Piscataway doctor who is a newcomer to statewide politics, facing off in that contest. Quinnipiac gives Booker a large margin over Lonegan, the presumptive GOP nominee.
Christie, a Republican, announced last week that New Jersey would hold a special primary election in August and a general election on Oct. 16 to fill Lautenberg's seat. The governor also picked state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa to serve in the Senate until October. Chiesa was sworn in on Monday but has said he will not run to hold on to the office.
Pallone has an early fundraising edge among the Democratic field. With $3.7 million in his campaign account as of March 31, he had twice as much cash on hand as Booker, who had $1.6 million. But Booker has a Rolodex of national donors he can tap, and an independent group has said it would look to raise between $1 million and $2 million to help him target voters and fund street operations.
Booker also has the support of the South Jersey Democratic power broker George Norcross, a formidable fundraiser with a proven record of getting his preferred candidates into office.
Holt had $797,000 in his campaign account, while Oliver has to start raising money from scratch. Oliver had $78,000 in her Assembly campaign account, but those funds cannot be transferred for use in a federal campaign.
On the Republican side, Lonegan has been a successful fundraiser during his time in statewide politics, raising $1.5 million for the 2009 gubernatorial primary and $496,000 for a 2005 gubernatorial primary. He also raised $567,000 when he ran for Congress against Steve Rothman in 1998.
Lonegan lost to Christie in 2009, but he said the state GOP is united behind him this time.
Oliver, the first African-American woman to serve as Assembly speaker, said she joined the race to boost the representation of women in New Jersey's congressional delegation, which hasn't included a female lawmaker in a decade.
"I think that the voters of New Jersey are entitled to have some choices," Oliver said.
Pallone said he helped write the federal health care law and worked on some of the bills championed by Lautenberg, a five-term senator known for his fighter's persona and liberal voting record
"I do want to continue his legacy," Pallone said. "I've always been a progressive."
Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray said Democrats have flocked to the Senate race after shying away from challenging Christie this year because it's an open seat that lacks a viable Republican challenger with the governor's charisma, popularity or name recognition.
"For all intents and purposes, the election for U.S. Senate is on Aug. 13 during the special primary," Murray said.
Originally published by Staff Writer Melissa Hayes contributed to this article..
(c) 2013 Record, The; Bergen County, N.J.. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.
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