The Campaign Spot

What Steve Lonegan Must Do in the Next Two Months

Credit where it’s due: Yesterday in New Jersey’s primary elections, Republican Steve Lonegan received more votes statewide (102,481) than the Democrats’ second-place finisher Frank Pallone (69,311) and third-place finisher Rush Holt (59,922).

Of course, Newark mayor/media superstar/Silicon Valley schmoozer Cory Booker ran away with the Democratic primary with 207,891 votes and is an extremely heavy favorite for the October 16 general election.

But Lonegan can do some good for his causes, even if he doesn’t win the general election. Almost from the moment he became mayor in 2006, Booker rode a wave of glowing media coverage that emphasized small but vivid gestures (“He shovels the city sidewalks himself!” “He rescued a neighbor in a burning building!”) and largely overlooked the fact that Newark’s economy and quality of life largely remain the same. Stories of his failure to disclose certain legally required financial agreements broke too late to impact the primary; Booker broke a loud public pledge and his media fans shrugged. He’s been anointed the next Democratic-party superstar; he appears on Morning Joe almost as often as Scarborough and Mika; he’s appeared on the Tonight Show, Oprah’s show, etc.

A signficant reason that Barack Obama was able to generate the messianic coverage he enjoyed in 2007 and 2008 was the fact that A) he didn’t face a competitive opponent in his 2004 Senate race, meaning he coasted into office with 70 percent of the vote, and B) no one had done significant opposition research or poked holes in his heroic narrative. Republicans cannot afford to give the Democrats’ rising stars free passes to statewide office.

Lonegan is highly unlikely to win. But he can make sure the state — and the nation — know how modest Booker’s record as mayor really is.

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