Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker make light of their friendly competition for the media spotlight, but the rivalry was never too convincing because their interests have so often aligned. As rising stars in opposing parties forced to share the stage in New Jersey, they could be expected to clash often. But the two have found common ground on education, economic issues, and crime policy, and most importantly have an interest in avoiding having to run against each other.
And when Senator Frank Lautenberg passed away this week, opening up a seat Booker was planning to run for next year, their interests aligned once again. New Jersey election law seemed to allow for a special election to fill this seat either this year or next. Calling the election for 2014 would have allowed Christie to avoid running alongside another high-profile candidate during his reelection campaign and would give the Republican Party a head start at holding the seat next year. That would have been best for Booker as well, since he doesn’t have a statewide campaign apparatus in place and would like to have the extra year to raise money. It would also give him a foil in the Republican senator he’d be running against, which would likely be an easier target than Christie.
But as Jonathan alluded to yesterday, Democrats would have challenged postponing the election until 2014 and, given the liberal state courts, would almost certainly have won. That would have been a setback for Christie, so he announced he was scheduling the special election for this fall. He had the option of setting the election to coincide with his own or to take place earlier. Christie doesn’t want to run on the same day that Booker is on the ballot, and once again this was also preferable for Booker, who didn’t want to risk facing a candidate who could run on Christie’s coattails.
For New Jersey Republicans, one of the disappointing aspects of Chris Christie’s first term as governor has been the lack of intrastate coattails. Christie has notched several impressive policy victories for Republicans, but the state GOP has been unable to turn those victories into success at the ballot box in either house of the state legislature, let alone a Senate challenge to Bob Menendez. That makes Christie’s policy success all the more impressive: unlike in Michigan and Wisconsin, Christie’s victories over the public sector unions came without a Republican legislature.
Christie’s one-man conservative show in New Jersey, along with Christie’s high approval rating, is sowing more internal discord within the state’s Democratic Party–and at the highest level yet. Christie’s popularity after his handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was enough to convince rising star Cory Booker not to challenge Christie for the governor’s office later this year. But that means that Booker, whose social-media heavy act in Newark is beginning to wear thin, needs something else to do. So he announced that he’s exploring a run for the Senate seat currently occupied by Frank Lautenberg. The latter’s term is up in 2014, and Lautenberg is thought to be leaning toward retirement. But he hasn’t announced that yet, and doesn’t seem to be at all pleased by Booker’s decision to try and push him out the door. And there’s another problem: if Lautenberg were to step down, it was widely expected that his chosen successor would be Frank Pallone, a congressman from central New Jersey who has been laying the groundwork for a Senate run.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker has all but confirmed that he is planning to replace Frank Lautenberg in the Senate in 2014 rather than challenge Governor Chris Christie next year. Though many have suspected Booker would take this route all along, he seemed to be sending up a trial balloon in the last couple of months to gauge his chances against Christie. The verdict was nearly unanimous: Booker was far weaker than he thought, and Christie was far stronger than anyone had expected.
On Christie’s side, there is no question now that his embrace of President Obama during the fallout and recovery from Hurricane Sandy was a boon to his approval numbers in the state. It rankled Republicans around the country, but it rallied New Jerseyans. It also earned him plaudits from a rare corner for a conservative: the entertainment industry. Christie got a shoutout from his hero, Bruce Springsteen, and from Steven Spielberg, who called Christie his new hero. In the latest Fairleigh Dickinson poll, even a majority of registered Democrats approved of Christie. He capped off his good run with an endorsement from a private-sector union that endorsed Christie’s Democratic opponent in 2009, Jon Corzine.
With several proposed cuts to SNAP, better known as food stamps, a new fad has emerged among social activists: food stamp challenges. Among the most notable challengers is Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who will begin the challenge on December 4 and is already hyping, on Twitter of course, his plan to budget a week’s food allowance according to what those on food stamps are able to spend on the program.
Booker and other challengers don’t seem to realize what SNAP actually stands for: Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. The word supplemental is a crucial descriptor for the program, which was never meant to be the sole provider of nutrition for its enrollees. There are other ways fill the gaps between SNAP and full nutrition, including free lunch programs at schools and food banks and kitchens. Nutritional programs are not the only way for those on food stamps to feed their families, however. For those physically unable to work, there is the option of obtaining assistance through Social Security disability. For those who are able to work, there is no reason to completely rely on governmental assistance programs to provide for their families.
The New Jersey governor’s race looked to be the only highlight of an otherwise barren slate of election contests in 2013. Incumbent Chris Christie is a GOP and YouTube star, but he had made a lot of enemies in his four years in office. More importantly, the Democrats have their own rising superstar in Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who seemed likely to be able to give Christie a stiff challenge. But after the latest round of polling of Garden State voters, Booker may be thinking that it might be smarter to wait another year and try for a Senate seat.
With the governor’s efforts to help the state recover from Hurricane Sandy and his controversial embrace of President Obama fresh in their minds, the latest Quinnipiac University poll shows Christie with an astonishing 72 percent approval rating. The numbers are more convincing when you break them down, as even Democrats support the governor’s performance by a 52-39 percent margin. Christie is given the thumbs-up from every demographic group including independents (77 percent), women (70 percent), blacks (55 percent) and Hispanics (66 percent).
While these numbers are bound to come down, any expectation that Christie’s union foes will be able to take their revenge on him this year must be considered unlikely. That means Booker may decide that a gubernatorial run would be a mistake that could derail a seemingly bright political future.
As Jonathan wrote earlier, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s reputation among Republicans in his home state has begun to diverge from his reputation among Republicans elsewhere. Nationally, Republicans are bitter about Christie’s embrace of President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which also happened to be in the last week of the presidential election campaign. But there is another popular New Jersey politician who is also perceived differently at home than on a national level: Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
Whether it’s pursuing unpopular policies by having the courts, rather than voters, on his side, or grumblings that Booker’s hyperactive Twitter feed is a strategy to cover for the fact that he spends as much as one in every five days out of his state, Booker’s rock-star status among national media occasionally obscures his less sainted image in Newark. Like Christie, that has a lot to do with the difficulty of impressing a national constituency and a local one at the same time. Unlike Christie, however, in Booker’s case it reveals a politician who sometimes seems more interested in national stardom than local governance.
Last year, the New York Times ran a story on the phenomenon of good actors taking silly roles in bad movies. Fans generally assume the actors take those roles for the paycheck, but the story offered a different defense: it can actually help prove the skill of the actor: “The more preposterous the situation, the more impressive the feat of seeming to take it utterly seriously. There are other measures of excellence of course — emotional subtlety, psychological acuity, wit — but this kind of unwavering, fanatical commitment is surely a sign of greatness.”
Alas, despite his gift for triangulation and spin and near cameo in “The Hangover 2,” former President Bill Clinton fails this test. Handed a script too far from reality by the Obama campaign, Clinton just couldn’t go through with it. So he told CNN that Mitt Romney’s business career was “sterling,” that the folks at Bain do good work, and that Romney clearly “crosses the qualification threshold.” Then yesterday he declared his support for extending the Bush tax cuts (though he later said he meant only some of the Bush tax cuts). Some roles are just too preposterous–even for Bill Clinton.
To be fair, Cory Booker and Deval Patrick were really the ones who killed Obama’s Bain Capital strategy. But last night on CNN, Bill Clinton basically dipped it in cement and threw it in the East River:
Bill Clinton, in an appearance on CNN last night, said that Mitt Romney has a “sterling business career” and that the campaign shouldn’t be about what kind of work Romney did.
“I don’t think we ought to get into the position where we say this is bad work; this is good work,” Clinton said, adding: “There’s no question that, in terms of getting up, going to the office, and basically performing the essential functions of the office, a man who’s been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold.”
Clinton urged the Obama campaign to instead focus on contrasting its vision for the country with Romney’s. His comments came at the tail end of a day in which another Obama surrogate, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), called Bain a “a perfectly fine company.”
Yesterday, Alana noted the latest fallout from Cory Booker’s critique of the Obama administration on “Meet the Press” and the subsequent, utterly ridiculous “hostage” video he recorded after the Obama campaign reminded him that independent thinking is strongly discouraged in the Democratic Party. Booker’s communications director, Anne Torres, resigned, citing “different views on how communications should be run.”
It wasn’t clear whether Torres objected more to Booker’s defense of capitalism or the cringeworthy apology video–which would have been embarrassing for any communications shop to have on its record–or whether this was merely the last straw in a simmering dispute (possibly about the mayor’s famous obsession with Twitter). But considering that Obama’s Bain attacks made several high-profile Democrats uncomfortable, the fact that Booker was the only one to consent to a walkback video seemed to indicate that the campaign wanted no daylight between Obama and Booker on the issue, even if others strayed from the message. Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray took a look at how race may have affected the campaign’s damage control strategy:
As Senator Barack Obama rose toward power in 2007 and 2008, he was sometimes taken as the avatar of a new generation of African-American leaders.
They were, PBS’s Gwen Ifill wrote, a “Joshua Generation” led by figures from Alabama Rep. Artur Davis to Newark Mayor Cory Booker. They were, like Obama, born too late to participate in the Civil Rights movement, and late enough to benefit from it with blue chip educations and direct paths to power. They were free of the urban machines that had defined black politics in America, and ready for a different and more hopeful sort of politics of race.
But as President Barack Obama struggles to keep his party united around him, few figures have proven more troublesome than that cadre of black leaders, each of whom was seen at some point as a candidate for the post which only Obama will ever hold: First Black President.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker is apparently still paying penance for his blasphemy against the Obama campaign on “Meet the Press” last week. NJ.com reports that Booker’s Communications Director Anne Torres stepped down today:
“I just decided it is best if I pursued other opportunities,” Torres said by phone. “We have very different views on how communications should be run.”
While a crucial part of the administration’s public face and dealings with the press, Torres’ role is strictly confined to city business. It is unclear what role, if any, she would have had in preparing Booker’s remarks on “Meet the Press,” wherein the mayor said he had “personal” problems with President Obama’s attacks on Bain Capital — problems he called nauseating.
Republican candidate Mitt Romney took his campaign to inner city Philadelphia today, but the upshot of the event wasn’t so much his education and school choice agenda as the opportunity it provided for the city’s mayor to show that he was no Cory Booker. Philly Mayor Michael Nutter as well as the city’s District Attorney Seth Williams turned out for the event intent on showing they were prepared to be loyal surrogates for President Obama. Nutter, who is an advocate of school reform, stayed outside the charter school Romney visited and gave a speech to a crowd that came out to jeer the Republican saying:
“It’s nice that he decided this late in his [campaign] to see what a city like Philadelphia is about,” Nutter said. But, he added, “I don’t know that a one-day experience in the heart of West Philadelphia is enough to get you ready to run the United States of America.”
Such raillery is meaningless and to be expected in any political campaign. Romney made a strong statement at the school, and though it’s not likely he will be winning many votes in that West Philadelphia neighborhood in November, his presence there was appropriate. The interesting aspect to the event is the alacrity with which the White House recruited two of the senior officials of the city — both of which are African-Americans like Booker, who presumably have busy schedules of their own–to show up and basically heckle Romney from a street corner more than a block away. After Newark Mayor Booker’s “Meet the Press” heresy this past weekend, the Democrats seem to have decided to dragoon local office holders to publicly demonstrate their loyalty at a moment’s notice with no questions asked.
Earlier today I criticized Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt for his strikingly inept television appearance. But ineptness is one thing; misleading people is quite another. And as this new RNC ad makes clear, LaBolt’s statement that the Obama campaign did not reach out to Newark Mayor Cory Booker in the aftermath of Booker’s defense of Bain Capital was simply not true.
Mayor Booker himself admits he was contacted by the Obama campaign. Which means that LaBolt was either lying or he’s speaking out on issues he has no knowledge about while giving us the impression that he’s an authoritative voice.
Last night, Cory Booker attempted to walk back his Bain Capital comments yet again, this time on the Rachel Maddow show. Why is he even bothering? The damage is already done. The left now sees him as a traitor to the class struggle, bought and paid for, as Cornell West is fond of saying, by the Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats.
Let’s imagine they’re right, and Booker said what he said because he thinks the Bain attacks are unpopular with his constituents and donors on Wall Street. If that’s the case, shouldn’t Obama take his comments even more seriously? Back in 2008, Obama was the top candidate recipient of donations from the securities and investment industry, raising more than $16 million. So far in 2012, he has raised $2 million. So…maybe Booker has a point.
Still, liberal bloggers are pushing the issue in an effort to run damage control for the Obama campaign. Booker has apparently taken donations from Bain higher-ups over the years, and Think Progress seized on this scandalous scandal as proof of his treachery: