Democrats did everything they could to portray yesterday’s special election for a Senate seat in New Jersey as a referendum on Republicans and the Tea Party. They clearly fell short of their expectations as Democrat Cory Booker underperformed his showing in almost all the polls, and wound up winning by only 10.3 points. By contrast, President Obama won New Jersey by 18 points just last November. At the same time, Democratic senator Robert Menendez cruised to a 19-point victory over a veteran moderate Republican state senator.
In a video released on Monday, President Obama had urged people to vote for Democrat Cory Booker “to send a message to the entire country about what kind of leadership we expect from our representatives in Congress, that we’re better than the shutdown politics we’ve seen in Washington.” Booker himself endlessly referred to Republican Steve Lonegan’s time as head of the state’s chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a tea-party-aligned group.
But Booker’s strategy didn’t seem to work and may even have energized Lonegan’s base. Booker had a 35-point lead only six weeks ago. A Rutgers-Eagleton poll released just last Monday still showed him with at 58 percent to 36 percent lead. Quinnipiac’s poll released on Tuesday had Booker with a 14-point lead. Only the Monmouth University poll that came out on Monday properly pegged Booker with a ten-point lead.
Lonegan lost, but his principled campaign showed the strength of conservative activists in a state that hasn’t voted Republican for president in a quarter-century. Since the campaign culminated with the government shutdown in Washington, it can’t be said that voters rose up to protest Republicans as Obama and Booker urged. In defeat, Lonegan won a higher percentage of the vote for U.S. Senate than any Republican in the Garden State has gotten in a dozen years.