In some ways, the special election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the death of Frank Lautenberg, pitting Democratic Mayor Cory Booker against Republican Steve Lonegan, strongly resembles the 1964 Presidential election in which supposed liberal Democrat Lyndon Johnson opposed Republican Barry Goldwater.
One is perceived as an extreme liberal and other as an extreme Democrat, leaving voters in New Jersey in a tough place.
The Republican Party has always struggled with the fact that its extreme elements tend to do better in primary elections than in the general elections – with some notable exceptions such as Christine Whitman and Christopher Christie. This time moderate Republicans had no champions, since both candidates in the August primary were of the Tea Party faction.
But with both Whitman and Christie, other factors allowed a relative moderate to get elected. Whitman benefitted from public backlash against proposed tax increases; Christie benefited from his role in cleaning up corruption as well as an economic downturn.
Christie, considered a moderate Republican, did himself a favor by scheduling the special election a month prior to his reelection bid since Booker is expected to swamp Lonegan, and Christie did not need a surge in Democratic votes during his own reelection bid.
This will be Christie’s last statewide election before the 2016 presidential election, and if Christie hopes to be a presidential contender, he needs to show that he cross over party lines in this election, and get massive numbers of Democrats to vote for him over Democratic gubernatorial contender Barbara Buono.
While Christie would likely win against Buono, the numbers would be far less impressive if Booker was running on the same ballot. Some Democrats might even remember they are Democrats and stick to the party line.
Booker was the star of an HCDO (Hudson County Democratic Organization) fundraising dinner at Casino in the Park on Oct. 8, the first large gathering under Chairman Vincent Prieto. This was a show of force ahead of Booker’s expected victory, but also a testimony to a restructuring of power within the organization as a result of Prieto’s election as chairman, and the election of Steven Fulop as mayor of Jersey City.
Sacco, in his brief comments, called Fulop “the standard bearer of the party,” and in some ways resembled a bride after a wedding ceremony with Democratic dignitaries lining up to meet him near the door.
Sacco preached Democratic unity ahead of several key upcoming elections, a theme repeated by Prieto, state Sen. Sandra Cunningham, and Booker himself.
Booker and Cunningham stole the show with their efforts to rally the troops, and though many expect Booker to get elected, most are also accepting the fact that Buono has an uphill battle in beating Christie.
“The race will tighten before election day,” Prieto said.
One relief several Democrats pointed out is that this is Christie’s last statewide election. He won’t be running for governor again, and if Democrats lose this race, they have the power to rebuild and become the statewide force for Democratic votes that Hudson County once was.
Although state Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack did not attend the event, other mayors did, such as Harrison Mayor Ray McDonough, who endorsed Christie for Governor.
U. S. Sen. Robert Menendez and Rep. Albio Sires could not attend the event because of ongoing issues in Washington, D.C., but they were acknowledged from the stage.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who received a friendly greeting from Fulop and Cunningham at the door, seemed upbeat ahead of a challenge by two contenders, including Assemblyman Ruben Ramos and Councilman Tim Occhipinti. All three mayoral candidates had filmed a debate in the Hudson Reporter offices earlier in the day. Supporters of each candidate each claimed to have come out on top.
Bayonne Mark Smith, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, and Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff joined freeholders and other dignitaries to help celebrate the rebirth of the HCDO.
Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise also spoke about unity and the great promise the Democratic organization had for the future.
Also attending the HCDO event was a large contingent from West New York, including Mayor Felix Roque and some of his key advisors. Seated only a table away was Freeholder Jose Munoz, who has served a chief witness against Roque in the trial that concluded a week earlier.
How secure is Roque?
This is Roque’s second public appearance, and he still glowed just after his trial concluded. He came to an event to rename School No. 4 in honor of Rep. Albio Sires. He was recently pronounced not guilty of hacking charges and had positioned himself in the middle of the new political world order in North Hudson. His new friends include State Sacco and a host of other members of the Hudson County Democratic Organization. This new alliance may well frustrate Roque’s old enemies, who have, in the past, played one side against another when Roque was aligned with State Senator and Union City Brian Stack in a kind of Cold War maneuvering.
WNY Commissioner Count Wiley, former Mayor Sal Vega, and Freeholder Jose Munoz have been diminished by Roque’s altered political state. None can seek out Stack’s support easily in this new world order since none would be welcome. Munoz most of all becomes a man without a country, although some people tell him he did the right thing when he went to federal authorities when his “Recall Roque” website got hacked.
While the flush of his court victory will fade, Roque can bank on his new alliance to carry him to the next election, giving him two years to rebuild his bruised reputation. Most believe that Roque will grow strong as long as he learns from his political mistakes – and keeps the faith with his new friends. Some of his new friends are also his old friends such as Sires and Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, both of whom had renewed their own ties to Sacco.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.