NEWARK, N.J. -- Newark Mayor Cory Booker won a special election Wednesday to represent New Jersey in the U.S. Senate, giving the rising Democratic star a bigger political stage after a race against conservative Steve Lonegan, a former small-town mayor.
With three-quarters of precincts reporting, Mr. Booker had almost 56 percent of the vote to Mr. Lonegan's 43 percent. The first reaction from the social-media savvy victor came, of course, on Twitter: "Thank you so much, New Jersey, I'm proud to be your Senator-elect."
Mr. Booker, 44, will become the first black senator from New Jersey and heads to Washington with an unusual political resume. He was raised in suburban Harington Park as the son of two of the first black IBM executives, and graduated from Stanford University and then Yale Law School, with a stint in between as a Rhodes Scholar, before moving to one of Newark's toughest neighborhoods with the intent of doing good.
He's been an unconventional politician, a vegetarian with a Twitter following of 1.4 million -- or five times the population of the city he governs.
With dwindling state funding, he has used private fundraising, including a $100 million pledge from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to run programs in Newark -- a strategy that has brought his city resources and him both fame and criticism.
Mr. Booker was elected to complete the 15 months remaining on the term of Frank Lautenberg, whose death in June at age 89 gave rise to an unusual and abbreviated campaign. If he wants to keep the seat for a full six-year term -- and all indications are that he does -- Mr. Booker will be on the ballot again in November 2014.
Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican with a national following of his own, appointed his attorney general, Jeffrey Chiesa, to the Senate temporarily and scheduled a special election for a Wednesday, just 20 days before Mr. Christie himself is on the ballot seeking re-election. The governor said he wanted to give voters a say on the Senate seat as soon as legally possible.
Democrats challenged the timing, saying Mr. Christie was afraid of appearing on the same ballot as the popular Mr. Booker. But courts upheld the governor's election schedule.
Mr. Booker had a running start on the election. Before Mr. Lautenberg died, the Newark mayor passed up a chance to run against Mr. Christie this year, saying he was eyeing Mr. Lautenberg's seat in 2014, in part so he could complete a full term as mayor -- something he won't do now that he's heading to Washington.
He won an August primary against an experienced Democratic field, including two members of Congress and the state Assembly's speaker, in a campaign that was largely about ideas.
The general election was about deeper contrasts, both ideological and personal.
Mr. Lonegan stepped down as New Jersey director of the anti-tax, pro-business Americans for Prosperity to run. Mr. Lonegan, who is legally blind, earned national attention as mayor of the town of Bogota, when he tried to have English declared as its official language.
After two runs in Republican gubernatorial primaries and as leader of successful campaigns against ballot measures to raise a state sales tax and fund stem-cell research, Mr. Lonegan was a favorite of New Jersey's relatively small right wing. Gathered with supporters Wednesday evening in Bridgewater, he told them, "Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the message we delivered together ... did not win the day."
The two candidates portrayed each other as too extreme for the job.
Throughout the campaign, Mr. Lonegan was aggressive, criticizing Mr. Booker during a string of homicides in Newark, holding a rally to mock the time Mr. Booker spent fundraising in California and declaring, "New Jersey needs a leader, not a tweeter."
Mr. Lonegan also criticized Mr. Booker when a Portland, Ore., stripper revealed a series of not-so-salacious Twitter messages she had exchanged with the Newark mayor, who is single.
First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM