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Primary Battles Set As Deadline Passes To Enter New Jersey Senate Race

Former AG Jeffrey Chiesa Was Sworn In Monday To Temporarily Fill Seat

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Four Democrats and two Republicans are in the special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat that opened when Sen. Frank Lautenberg died last week.

Gov. Chris Christie decided to schedule a primary for August and a special general election for October.

The filing deadline was 4 p.m. Monday.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Reps. Rush Holt and Frank Pallone are in the Democratic race.

All four filed papers to enter the Democratic race on Monday.

Pallone, 61, said his progressive record on issues such as the Affordable Care Act, mass transportation funding and Superfund cleanups more closely mirrors Lautenberg’s positions than his opponents. He and Lautenberg frequently worked together on legislation, with Lautenberg sponsoring a bill in the Senate and Pallone sponsoring it in the House.

Pallone said he’s a logical replacement for Lautenberg’s seat.

“Part of the reason why I want to run for Senate is because I do want to continue his legacy,” said Pallone.

Booker, 44, a rising star in the Democratic Party with Hollywood friends like Oprah Winfrey and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, formally declared his candidacy on Saturday.

Booker said he hoped to bring a fresh pragmatic voice to Washington, where “too many have come to believe — nothing can get done.”

“We need someone in the United States Senate who’s actually had to work on difficult problems, who’s actually had to find people jobs, who’s actually had people standing in front of their homes and had to work on everything from getting people into food stamp programs to helping young people better afford college,” Booker said Saturday.

The understated Holt, 64, a former research physicist, said in a statement that he believes he is “the best candidate to continue the passionate advocacy for progressive values that Sen. Lautenberg exemplified.”

“As an educator and a scientist, I know that investing in education, research and infrastructure are the keys to a stronger, more secure middle class. These are the investments that kept the American Dream alive in the 20th century – investments such as the GI Bill, which made it possible for a young Frank Lautenberg to go to college, to build a business, and to join the United States Senate,” Holt said.

Oliver told fellow Democrats at a meeting Sunday she was planning to run, hoping to become the Garden State’s first female senator.

“I am committed to see this state send a woman to Congress. I think it should be a priority of my party,” Oliver said.

Oliver said she’s the right person for the job.

“Because I think that I have the ability to articulate the needs of the residents of this state,” she said Monday afternoon.

Two Republicans have entered the race.

Steve Lonegan, the 57-year-old conservative former mayor of Bogota who has twice run in his party’s gubernatorial primaries, turned in his papers Monday afternoon.

Steve Lonegan announcing he has 7,200 signatures on petition for U.S. Senate seat. (credit: Peter Haskell/WCBS 880)

Steve Lonegan announcing he has 7,200 signatures on petition for U.S. Senate seat. (credit: Peter Haskell/WCBS 880)

Alieta Eck, a physician from Somerset, filed her papers to run as the Monday afternoon deadline approached. Eck is a tea party candidate in the Republican race.

Lonegan said he expects to win his primary battle and the general election.

“I don’t care which of the Democrats win that primary. They’re all the same. They’re all rubber stamps for Barack Obama,” he said.

As Syma Chowdhry from CBS 2’s sister station KYW TV reported, Gov. Christie declined to comment about the candidates in the race but responded to criticism from some Democrats about holding the special election in October.

“I heard my Democratic friends. They wanted a senator as soon as possible. I’m giving it to them. They’re getting a senator even sooner than they hoped,” said Christie. “Make their views known, get them out to the public. We’re talking about from now until October.”

Christie also balked at the argument that the October Senate election will result in low turnout and will distract voters ahead of his own November election.

“If you have candidates which excite them and challenge them, then they’re going to come to the polls no matter what time of year it is,” said the governor.

Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, who was appointed by Christie to hold the Senate seat until voters have their say, was sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden just after 4:30 p.m. Monday in Washington.

Chiesa was accompanied by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) as he walked into the Senate chamber to take the oath of office.

The self-described conservative is the first Republican U.S. senator from New Jersey since another fill-in in 1982. He had previously announced he wouldn’t seek the seat on a permanent basis.

Lautenberg, 89, died June 3, setting off a scramble for the seat. A reliably liberal voter, Lautenberg had not planned to seek another six-year term because of failing health and was due to retire in January 2015.

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