TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – Democrat Cory Booker thanked New Jerseyans for coming out to vote Wednesday, as he won the special election to complete the final year of the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s term.
The polls closed at 8 p.m. statewide. The Associated Press declared Booker the winner over Republican Steve Lonegan shortly after 9:30 p.m.
With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Booker had captured 55 percent of the vote to 44 percent for Lonegan. Six other candidates were also in the race.
“Thank you so much, New Jersey. I’m proud to be your senator-elect,” Booker tweeted around 9:40 p.m., along with a virtual card reading, “We did it!”
Soon afterward, Booker addressed his supporters in person at the Victoria Theater at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.
As CBS 2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported Wednesday night, the Newark Boys Choir took the stage right before Booker, who proclaimed that Mr. Booker is going to Washington.
Booker was speaking to the crowd at 10:05 p.m. He began by praising Lautenberg and his record.
“He was great because he not only built at great American business, but he also served our country with honor and distinction in war as well as peace,” Booker said.
He also thanked the people of New Jersey for coming out to vote in an election where low turnout might not have been a surprise.
“We’re cynical about Washington actually working for us, and it would have been easy to listen to this frustrating negativity, and stay home today,” Booker said. “But here in New Jersey, more than 1 million people rejected cynicism and came out on a Wednesday – not in November, but in the middle of October.”
Booker is a Stanford, Yale, and Yale Law School alumnus and was a Rhodes Scholar. He is a vegetarian, and he has 1.4 million followers on Twitter – five times the population of the city he leads.
“I stand here right now because of that great American spirit – the spirit of activism and engagement in going above and beyond the call of duty,” he said.
Booker has gained a reputation for his personal involvement in public service, having lived on a food-stamp budget for a week, shoveled a constituent’s driveway, and allowed Superstorm Sandy victims to live in his home. But now, Kramer reported, he will go to Washington at a time of deep partisan divide and dysfunction.
As 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten reported, Booker talked at length about how a divided America fails in its promise to be great for all.
“That’s why I’m going to Washington – to take back the sense of pride; not to play shallow politics that’s used to attack and divide, but to engage in the kind of hard, humble service that reaches out to others; that understands that when you join with your sister and your brother, America can be greater for everyone,” he said.
He said he will show how it is done by being the senator for all in New Jersey, and not just those who supported him.
At one point, Booker talked about moving to one of the tougher neighborhoods to prove that America can be great for every American, WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported.
Earlier, Lonegan conceded the race to Booker, saying he had made a call congratulating his opponent.
“I hope that God will be with him in the decisions he makes as he goes into the U.S. Senate,” Lonegan said.
Lonegan told CBS 2′s Christine Sloan he was energized by the campaign, and had said he expected a close race.
Lonegan’s main base of support was in Hunterdon, Sussex, Warren and Ocean counties, and as of 9 p.m., he was leading in Hunterdon and Ocean counties. But that was not enough.
As Kramer reported, Booker will become the first African-American U.S. Senator from New Jersey.
It was unclear Wednesday night when Booker will be sworn in. The election results have to be certified, and Booker’s aides said there are a few matters he wants to finish.
Aides tell CBS 2 they expect the Newark mayor will be U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) by the end of the month.
Once Booker leaves the Newark Mayor’s Office, he will have 30 days to name an interim mayor to fill out the nine months left on his term.
Normally, the City Council president would be named interim mayor. But recently-elected president Luis Quintana has said he does not want the job.
It was not clear whether the City Council might vote him in anyway.
Both candidates cast their ballots early Wednesday. The election was the first since the partial federal government shutdown began more than two weeks ago.
The shutdown was set to end Wednesday night, when the U.S. Senate and House both passed a deal.
Voting at an apartment complex in downtown Newark, Booker called the election a “referendum” on what’s happening in Washington.
“This is the only election in America right now where we will get a chance to make a statement about what’s going on in Washington. This is a chance for us to send a message about the shutdown, about the gridlock,” Booker said.
“Reject the shutdown and send a leader like myself down there who is committed to bringing people together regardless of party,” he added.
After voting in Bogota, the city he led as mayor for three terms, Lonegan said he was able to unite Republicans of all stripes.
“We’ve unified and I’m proud of that,” he said. “The entire Republican party, from the tea party to the moderate wing to pro-life and not so pro-life. Everybody who cares about individual liberty.”
Earlier Wednesday morning, Lonegan’s campaign announced it would be challenging Booker’s vote, claiming the Newark mayor doesn’t actually live in Newark, 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg reported.
“Mayor Booker has used Newark as a stepping stone. He has no regard for that city, for his failures — he doesn’t even live there,” Lonegan said.
Booker’s campaign has said the Democrat recently moved to a home on Longworth Avenue. Booker laughed off the allegation.
Public opinion polls showed the 44-year-old Booker with a double-digit lead heading into the election. The 57-year-old Lonegan quit a conservative political advocacy group to run for office.
There were stark differences between the candidates.
On healthcare, Booker called the Affordable Care Act imperfect, but says it can be “tweaked.” Lonegan says it should be delayed a year and objecting to the concept of government-directed health insurance.
On gun control, Booker wants to close loopholes. Lonegan is against any new gun control measures.
Booker wants gay marriage legalized while Lonegan opposes it.
Both candidates drew on some big names for support. Oprah Winfrey helped raise funds for Booker, while the nation’s largest tea party political action committee brought former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in to campaign for the GOP nominee.
On Wednesday afternoon, WCBS 880′s Levon Putney visited a number of polling sites in Cliffside Park, where the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg last lived.
Voters said it was important for them to make their voice heard in the race between Booker and Lonegan.
“I don’t want to make a joke out of it, but it’s black and white,” one voter told Putney.
“It’s very important election,” said one woman.
“It’s up to you, which candidate you think is telling the truth,” another Cliffside Park resident said.
Gov. Chris Christie set the date for the special election — which is costing an estimated $24 million — three weeks ahead of his own re-election test.
Lautenberg, a liberal Democrat, died in office in June.
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