By: Jason Linde, Vice President Campaign Services
The special election to replace New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg was supposed to showcase and serve as a springboard for something more for Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
A few months ago, the conventional wisdom was that the charismatic and dynamic Mayor would use the Senate campaign to bolster his standing on the national stage. Potential Democratic presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and others would recognize Booker’s star power and possibly recruit him to serve as their vice presidential nominee in 2016.
But something happened along the way—the Senate campaign.
The outsized expectations for Mayor Booker would have been challenging for anyone to reach, but instead of benefitting from the Senate campaign, Cory Booker’s reputation has been diminished as a result.
Some of these hits were of Mayor Booker’s own doing—from openly musing about his sexual orientation to having a Twitter exchange with a West Coast vegan stripper. These missteps showed that Booker wasn’t quite ready for the national stage.
His general election opponent, former Mayor of Bogota, New Jersey, Steve Lonegan, has attempted to define Booker as a “show horse” instead of a “work horse.” These attacks seem to be resonating as Booker’s lead has shrunk to the point where Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PAC is now running a $1 million independent expenditure TV ad campaign on Booker’s behalf.
And while Mayor Booker is expected to win the October 16th special election with a comfortable margin, his candidacy and reputation has already been adversely impacted.
Knowing this, the question then shifts to what kind of Senator will Cory Booker become?
Because Cory Booker has little more than one year in office before his next Senate election, it will be interesting to see what path he follows.
It seems unlikely, at first glance, that Booker will bury himself in Senate history and procedure, learn the ways of getting his bills passed and build relationships with less famous but more powerful Senators. This was the path taken by Hillary Clinton and most recently, Al Franken.
Both Clinton and Franken had something that Booker does not—time. They both had the luxury of learning the ways of the Senate before running for re-election.
Booker, however, will have to continue to navigate the work horse/show horse dichotomy. With an election a year away, and the need to demonstrate some record of success, he can’t afford to disappear. Yet, the opposite path, overexposure, bears risk.
Which way Cory Booker goes will go a long way in telling us just where he wants to go with his political career.
Perhaps his best path is to find the middle ground—focus on an issue that appeals to New Jersey residents and something that he can dedicate himself to—and work that issue to enhance his stature and reputation.
That way, he can create his own path forward on his own terms.