TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The New Jersey U.S. Senate race was in a fight to the finish Tuesday, a day before voters were set to head to the polls in a special election.
As CBS 2’s Christine Sloan reported, Democrat Cory Booker is hitting the Democrat-favoring communities of Belleville, New Brunswick, Hoboken and Newark, where he is mayor.
Republican Steve Lonegan is campaigning Tuesday in Basking Ridge, Flemington, Belvidere, Morristown and Middletown — all places where Republicans usually get the most votes. He’s also stopping in Jersey City.
Lonegan also received the endorsement of former Jersey City Acting Mayor Joe Rokawski. And Lonegan attacked Booker for his performance as Newark mayor.
“Two people were shot to death on the streets of Newark last night. Unemployment in Newark has gone from 8 to 14 percent,” Lonegan said. “Mr. Booker has failed Newark. That’s extreme. See, he’s an extreme failure.”
Booker fired back, calling Lonegan extreme as he met with senior citizens in Newark.
“He is the leader of the tea party in New Jersey, period,” Booker said. “Do we want to send the tea party to Washington that is continuing to shut down our government?”
Booker also took issue with Lonegan’s claims about his record as Newark mayor.
“Shootings are down 27 percent in Newark. That is a fact. Murders are down over 15 percent, that’s a fact,” Booker said. “What we need in Washington isn’t someone who talks down to our cities and gives such negative characterizations.”
During a stop in Little Falls, Booker said the special election is about more than just Booker versus Lonegan.
“This a chance for people to send a real message to Washington. This is a referendum in many ways on a shutdown on Tea Party tactics,” Booker told WCBS 880’s Jim Smith. “Will New Jersey send the leader of our Tea Party to join the ranks of [Sen.] Ted Cruz and others shutting down our government, attacking the expansion of health care and things like that. Or, will we send someone down who’s been the mayor of our largest city who hasn’t even had the time to play partisan politics.”
Booker said the eyes of the nation will be watching as New Jerseyans cast their ballots in the only federal election during this government shutdown.
“You either endorse the shutdown and if you do, vote for Steve Lonegan. If you endorse those Tea Party sort of radical politics of pushing our government from crisis to crisis, vote for Steve Lonegan,” Booker said.
There are stark differences between the candidates. Lonegan is against the Affordable Care Act and what he calls big government, and said it chokes the liberties of Americans.
He also opposes gay marriage, and believes the welfare system has institutionalized poverty. A business owner and legally blind, Lonegan said after college he refused to stay on disability.
“The government and bureaucrats would have simply kept me in that entitlement state for the rest of my life, happily,” he said.
Booker took issue with Lonegan’s claim that he favors liberty.
“He is so for liberty that he tells gay and lesbian couples. ‘Oh by the way, you can’t be treated equal under the law.’ By the way, he wants to say gay and lesbian couples can’t adopt children,” Booker said.
But at a news conference, Lonegan thanked Jersey City’s current mayor Steve Fulop “for allowing us to come here today and have this press conference without being attacked by thugs and hoodlums.”
Lonegan trumpeted the endorsement of the former Democratic mayor Rakowski. He was Jersey City’s acting mayor for four months in 1992.
“Just look at Cory Booker’s record. It is a failure,” Rakowski said.
“I feel it’s really just an omen for me to be here,” Lonegan said.
Besides asking for votes, both candidates are reminding voters that the special election is on Wednesday, a day when polls usually are not open.
The Newark mayor said he anticipates sizable voter turnout.
The winner will serve the remaining 15 months of the late Frank Lautenberg’s term in the Senate.
A Monmouth University poll released Monday finds the Newark mayor maintaining a double-digit lead over Lonegan, 52 to 42 percent among likely voters.
A Rutgers-Eagleton Poll shows Booker with a 22-point lead over Lonegan. The poll, released Monday afternoon, gives the Democrat a 58 to 36-point lead over his competitor.
Political analysts said it’s highly unlikely that Lonegan will be able to overcome his deficits in the polls, but they added voter turnout will be crucial in determining the election.
Some analysts said independent voters and moderate Republicans may skip Wednesday’s vote.
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