On Wednesday, October 16, the state of New Jersey will be having a special election to pick a new senator. Some are calling the election a harbinger of what we could see during the 2014 midterms. Others see the results as a foregone conclusion and say there will be no bearing on what could occur in the next election cycle.
Here’s everything you need to know to get caught up on the race so far:
Why is there a special election? The race is to fill the seat of Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg, who passed away this June. Sen. Lautenberg’s seat is currently being filled by a Republican who was appointed by Republican Governor Chris Christie. Should a Democrat win, that would change the dynamics from 52 Democrats, 46 Republicans and 2 Independents to 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans and 2 Independents, causing little change in how the body votes overall (both Independents currently vote Democrat, making party line votes a 54-46 split, which would change to either 55-45 or remain the same).
Isn‘t New Jersey already having an election on November 5th? Why are they having a separate one 3 weeks earlier? Because of the rules surrounding special elections, Gov. Christie could choose either to allow a special election or have a senate election at the same time as the state’s governor’s race. Speculation is that the Governor, who is believed to be considering a 2016 presidential run, wanted to ensure an easy victory over his own Democratic opponent, and didn’t want an additional race on the ballot that could bring more Democrats to the polls.
Who is running? Newark Mayor Cory Booker has the Democratic nomination, while Republican Steve Lonegan is the GOP nominee. Lonegan, a former mayor, is strongly supported by the Tea Party, whereas Booker has been allied with many of the established Democratic organizations.
Who is winning? With one day left, it still seems pretty likely that Booker will win the race, something that has been a given for most of the campaign. Depending on which poll you look at, Booker is leading by anywhere from 10 to 22 points. Lonegan has been trying to pull that number down recently with the arrival of Tea Party superstar Sarah Palin in the state, where she has begun stumping on his behalf. Impact-wise, she doesn’t appear to be making much of a difference.
So how about the mud? Oh yes, this has been a pretty scandalous race so far, or, at least, it attempted to be. At one point the big rage was that Cory Booker was gay. Later, it was that he DMed on Twitter with a stripper. Finally, it was that he must be gay again since he didn’t send enough messages to the stripper.
The last ditch attempt at an October surprise? A claim that the mayor of Newark doesn’t actually live in Newark and hasn’t for a year. The evidence? Someone peeked into his windows and the place looked empty. Booker’s campaign solidly dismissed the allegations as a last minute smear attack.
Does this race‘s results mean anything in 2014? No. The only way that this could possibly be a bellweather of the 2014 election is if Lonegan wins, which is simply implausible. If a Tea Party, far right-wing politician manages to pull off a come-from-behind victory over a Democrat who led him by nearly 30 points in June, while the Republican party is in the midst of shutting down the entire federal government and considering defaulting on the debt ceiling to collapse the world economy, then heaven help us all, because that means there will not be a single Democratic victory in any state in 2014. Even California.
At best, the Republican party will be able to state that Booker should have won by more and didn’t, and declare it a victory. Meanwhile, one seat will flip, having little impact on the entire body of the senate itself, but potentially making it harder for Republicans to take control once the votes are counted in November 2014.
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