WASHINGTON – Newark Mayor Cory Booker took another step toward the Senate on Tuesday when he easily won the Democratic nomination in New Jersey. Republican nominee Steve Lonegan isn’t expected to be more than an also-ran against Booker, meaning the Newark mayor has basically punched his ticket to Washington.
What kind of senator would Booker be? From the get-go, he would be poised to become the highest-profile member of the Democratic Caucus. While the Senate Republican roster is filled with rising young conservative stars such as Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, none of whom is camera-shy, Senate Democrats don’t boast the same kind of new electric personalities.
Wait just a second, you say. What about Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has a huge liberal following, a record of taking on Wall Street and the ability to raise more money than just about anyone? All true. But Warren has largely eschewed the spotlight, and has deliberately kept a low profile during her first few months on Capitol Hill.
Then there is Kirsten Gillibrand, a financial juggernaut in her own right and an emerging voice on the left. Gillibrand maintains a higher-profile public presence than Warren, but she is not Paul or Cruz. She is doesn’t covet the spotlight as much.
Which brings us to Booker, who does. “I don’t want to just go down there and become a part of the system. I want to change it and create change for real people,” Booker told NBC News on Monday. “There’s in some ways a lack of imagination on a lot of people’s parts.”
That sure doesn’t sound like someone who wants to be a wallflower. And nothing in Booker’s career suggests he would be a quiet presence in the Senate. As mayor, he has already become a national figure, regularly appearing on Sunday shows and other network news programs. He has more than 1.4 million followers on Twitter, which he uses actively. And Booker comes from a state where he can cut a liberal Senate profile without having to worry about it hurting him back home.
Booker would also be the only black Democrat in the Senate. Republican Sen. Tim Scott is currently the only black senator.
One Democratic strategist who closely follows New Jersey politics said Booker has three key attributes. One is his “ability to communicate above the normal channels,” noting it is “remarkable that the national news is issuing breaking news alerts that he won a primary.” Two, Booker’s donor base is “very, very deep at both the high dollar and low dollar end of the spectrum.” And he is “nontoxic” for both Democrats and Republicans.
Booker pollster Joel Benenson noted that “it is important to remember that there is still the general election in October and Mayor Booker knows he has to campaign hard to win,” and added, “Booker knows that if he gets to serve in the Senate that being well-known is no substitute for hard work it takes to persuade people to work together and get things done. He has often mentioned Bill Bradley, a retired NBA star who went to the Senate, as a model for that. And, if he wins the seat in October, he will look to work closely with the state’s senior senator, Bob Menendez.”
There is a counterargument to the idea that Booker would make noise from the get-go by taking the lead on legislation, maintaining a media presence and speaking his mind. Two that come to mind: Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Both entered the Senate amid a lot of hype and both kept their heads down in their early days in the Senate.
But for Booker —who clearly has designs on higher office — there is a gap that is begging to be filled. And the smart money says he jumps right in.