Monday, June 17, 2013

New Jersey Senate Race

     The death of New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg paved the way for a controversial and much anticipated special election set for October 16, 2013.  After speculation about what Governor Chris Christie would do to fill Lautenber’s seat, he has decided to temporarily appoint New Jersey Attorney General and longtime friend Jeff Chiesa, while establishing a special election.  The October election came under scrutiny because Democrats wanted it to be on November 5th.  However, the judicial system has affirmed that Christie is allowed to establish the special election on this date setting the stage for an anticipated primary and election sequence.
     On the Democratic side, four candidates – Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, Congressman Rush Holt, and Congressman Frank Pallone – have filed their paperwork and gathered enough signatures to be on the ballot.
     Mayor Cory Booker is the projected front runner due to his national prominence and recognition.  Booker rose to the national scene at the DNC in 2012 giving a prime time speech.  He has appeared on numerous national television shows including NBC’s Meet the Press.  Booker had hinted towards a potential Senate bid but some were wondering if this race would be the right time to undertake that task. Despite being such a national figure, his popularity among his party in the state of New Jersey is rocky at times.
     Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, 60 years old, is the first African-American to become Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly.  Oliver was first elected to the Assembly in 2003 where she carved legislation in key areas such as jobs, economy, marriage equality, paid family leave, and healthcare.  In a local report, Oliver’s entry to the Senate field is somewhat perplexing.  Her fundraising network, however, runs thin outside her network and her district.  She has also been accused of running in an attempt to spoil the hopes of Cory Booker whose relationship with Oliver has been lukewarm at best.  In a January interview with the Huffinton Post, Oliver states she would like to challenge Booker if he ran for Senate in 2014.  She believes Booker’s national presence (appearances on television programs and having millions of Twitter followers) is a negative and Oliver wants to focus on who will best represent New Jersey.  Oliver has also been outspoken about the need for more women in congress which is another cause fueling her bid.
     Congressman Rush Holt, with a PhD in physics, has decided to throw his hat in the Senate bid ring as well.  Holt, 64, has been serving in congress since 1999.  Holt currently serves on the Education and Workforce Committee as well as the Committee of Natural Resources.  He is also the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources where he has been developing a long-term strategy for independence from fossil fuels.  Before being elected to congress, Holt was a physicist, a professor, and headed the Nuclear and Scientific Division of the Office of Strategic Forces at the State Department.  Holt has also maintained a grassroots effort throughout his tenure and during the process to gain 1,000 signatures for his recent Senate run, did not pay any workers.  According to a volunteer for Holt, “He [Holt] has raised four times as much money from small-dollar donors as any other New Jersey Democrat in the U.S. House.”  Holt has run on his progressive record which could deter some New Jersey voters in a state-wide election, but affirms “we need a United States senator who will recommit our nation to progressive values, who will make the investments needed to keep the American Dream alive in the 21st century.”
     The last name on the Democratic ticket is Congressman Frank Pallone.  Pallone, 61, who is currently serving in his 13th term in congress (since 1989) is the senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  He also is the Communications Chair of the Democratic Policy Committee which is responsible for issuing Democratic messages across the nation.  The Huffington Post remarks, “[Pallone] can win the Democratic primary against better-known Newark Mayor Cory Booker by running on his progressive congressional record.”  Pallone is also quoted as stating “My hallmark has always been grassroots – getting out, meeting the people, explaining to the people what my record is and how I'm going to solve problems… A lot of this will be grassroots.”
     Despite Pallone’s affirmation that he is the best candidate to take on the heavily favored Booker, Southern New Jersey political leader George Norcross III has endorsed Booker, stating Booker is “a new type of Democrat – fiscally conservative, socially progressive.”  Also recent poll numbers indicate New Jersey Democrats concur with Norcross; A Quinnipiac University poll puts Booker at 53% while Holt’s numbers are 10% and Pallone is at 9%.  Booker’s numbers can most notably be attributed to name recognition, one of the most important elements in elections.  While Booker may not be the right candidate, his image just may be the best tool in his campaign.
     On the Republican side, only two individuals have put in a bid:  Dr. Alieta Eck, 62, and Steve Lonegan.  Although it's a disappointing showing for Republicans who are up against a diverse and well recognized Democratic field, each candidate brings an exclusive arrangement of political and social fortitude with the hopes of winning this precious seat.
     Dr. Alieta Eck was the former president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).  Her political claim to fame was that she gave evidence in 2011 to the U.S. Senate regarding Obamacare during hearings.  According to Newsmax, her Senate run was inspired by colleagues at AAPS and others in the community.  She is popular among Tea Partiers due to outspokenness toward the Affordable Care Act.  During the Senate hearings, Eck and her husband, also a physician, proposed alternatives to Obamacare called the Voluntary Free Protection Act which, among other things, asked doctors to provide free care for the indigent and those without insurance in return for immunity from law suits.  Despite being a longtime healthcare reformer, her weaknesses are that she may only be a one trick political pony and she lacks fundraising resources.
     Steve Lonegan was the former mayor of Bogota, New Jersey.  His political track record consists of two failed gubernatorial runs in 2005 and 2009 and a short lived congressional run.  He is also legally blind due to a childhood disease.  For the Republican Party, he has name recognition within the state, but may have some skeletons in his closet.  Talking Points Memo reports in 2006 that Lonegan called for a ban on McDonald's to change a sign from Spanish to English.  He also tried to hold a referendum on English being the official language in Bogota which was not met favorably.  He was the New Jersey director for Americans For Prosperity which was founded by the Koch Brothers and promotes “limited government and free markets on local, state, and federal levels.”  Lonegan also ran into trouble with the feds when he allegedly hired illegal immigrants to work for Americans For Prosperity but told authorities they were documented and here legally.  His stance and track record on immigration may hurt him if brought to light during the election cycle.  He has also compared Barak Obama to Fidel Castro.
     Each side of the race has their own enigmatic story line waiting to unfold.  For Democrats, the hurdle for hardcore progressives will be to overcome the popularity of Cory Booker (who also leads the Republican frontrunner Lonegan in the polls).  With Chris Christie’s popularity continuing to rise, it is important for New Jersey Democrats to find a balance with their nominee – someone who is willing to work with conservatives yet not crumble on liberal values.  New Jersey is a blue state when looking at the breakdown of their state legislature and Democrats are faced with a tough homework assignment to distinguish if name recognition is everything.
     For Republicans, their field is slightly less convoluted with a local politician and a medical doctor who has worked extensively with healthcare.  With the newest debate in state houses being Medicaid adoption, many conservative states have outright refused the expansion despite being 100% federally funded for the first three years.  In recent poll numbers, Obamacare appears to be losing popularity among the majority of the nation.  From a healthcare standpoint, do Americans want another major healthcare debate/reform as seen three years ago, or have their views switched to other issues concerning the economy or National Security?  The Republican field is not the A-Team the party had hoped for and it still may not be their time, but hope is still within grasp. If Christie’s numbers continue to rise, New Jersey voters may take to the other side.

No comments:

Post a Comment