The filing deadline has now officially passed for the October special election to fill the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s (D) seat. Four Democrats and two Republicans will run.
Much attention at this point rests on the Democratic primary set for August, but Newark Mayor Cory Booker is the overwhelming favorite. Two polls released Monday – from Rutgers-Eagleton and Quinnipiac -- both showed Booker with more than 50 percent of the vote and with big leads over his Democratic primary opponents and leading Republican Steve Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota.
Democratic Reps. Rush Holt and Frank Pallone garner just 10 percent or less. State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver was not included in the surveys, because she filed later than the other Democrats. Quinnipiac was the only poll to test general-election match-ups, and Booker was handily ahead of Lonegan, 54 to 27 percent. (The margins between Lonegan and each of the other Democrats are narrower. Dr. Alieta Eck, a late Republican entry, isn’t included in the figures.)
Booker is far and away the best known candidate in the polls. So who are the other candidates?
Rush Holt (D)
First elected to his House seat in 1999, Holt has one of the more unique resumes in Congress. His past campaign bumper stickers read, “My Congressman is a Rocket Scientist” because he is, in fact, a physicist with multiple Jeopardy wins under his belt. Pre-politics, Holt served as the assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, New Jersey’s largest center for alternative energy research. The lawmaker stresses environmental and infrastructure accomplishments, on his website, including his role in securing $150 million for the Land Water Conservation Fund and $800 million over two years for transit security improvements. He also serves on the Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Committee on Natural Resources, where he is the ranking member of the energy and mineral resources subcommittee, which deals in part with the nation’s long-term energy strategy. Overall, Holt brands himself as a results guy, claiming that he “studies the issues based on merit, not partisanship.” Another interesting fact: Holt’s father, also Rush Holt of West Virginia, was the youngest person elected to the U.S. Senate, securing his seat at age 29. In fact, he had to delay taking his seat in the Senate by a few months because he did not meet the age requirement. He served just one term, and was subsequently a failed congressional candidate and gubernatorial candidate five times, including twice as a Republican after switching parties.
Frank Pallone (D)
Currently serving his 13th term in the U.S. House, Congressman Pallone brands himself as a champion in two main areas: health care and the environment. He emphasizes his progressive record a la the late Lautenberg. The underlying message of his campaign website and Senate announcement: Pallone is a known entity. Launching his bid, he said, “I believe my record of 25 years in Congress…shows I’m the best person to get the job done.” Pallone has been called a “chief architect” of the House version of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” This May, he re-introduced a bill he authored that died in the last Congress – the Superfund Polluter Pays Act – that his website says would make “polluters, not taxpayers foot the bill for toxic clean-ups.” The Democrat is also known for an early career stance against President Bill Clinton on the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Pallone emphasizes that vote on his new campaign site as evidence that he protects American workers. National news articles at the time included the job concerns, but added that most of the “No’s” received a lot of contributions from labor groups opposed to the agreement. Per the Washington Post, Labor PACs gave Pallone $707,005 between his initial election in 1988 and 1993. Prior to Congress, Pallone served on the city council in Long Branch, N.J., and in the New Jersey state Senate.
Sheila Oliver (D)
Currently in her second term as assembly speaker in the New Jersey state legislature, Oliver has a liberal record similar to some of her opponents. She sponsored bills to raise the state’s minimum wage and tie it to the cost of living and to legalize gay marriage, according to her bio on the New Jersey Assembly site. Oliver is emphasizing the need for a woman to win the seat, which would be a first for New Jersey. Filing her petition, she said, “You know for a long time I’ve had a lot of consternation that for centuries we have had no women representing the state of New Jersey. So I am very concerned about beginning to move the process forward for women’s representation.” Prior to the state legislature, Oliver was a non-profit administrator and served on the board of education for her hometown, East Orange, N.J.
Steve Lonegan (R)
One of just two Republicans vying for Lautenberg’s seat, Lonegan is a former small-town (Bogota, N.J.) mayor, who has also made several unsuccessful congressional and gubernatorial bids. The conservative is probably best known for controversies around immigration. As Bogota’s mayor, for example, he pushed to make English the town’s official language after a McDonald’s franchise put up a billboard in Spanish there. He called the sign “divisive” and “offensive.” He later landed in legal trouble for hiring illegal immigrants to work at his home, according to the New York Times. On Tuesday, he released a statement with excerpts from a voicemail left for Sen. Jeffrey Chiesa, Gov. Chris Christie’s appointee. Lonegan urged him to oppose immigration-reform legislation because it is, he said, tantamount to amnesty. Chiesa was one of 82 senators to vote in favor of a motion to proceed to debate on immigration Tuesday, the first vote on this round of comprehensive-immigration reform. Lonegan called Booker, Pallone, Holt, and Oliver “Obama rubber stamps,” who are “all the same.” Fun fact about Lonegan: Samuel Wurzelbacher, a.k.a. “Joe the Plumber” from the 2008 presidential election, endorsed him in his last race for governor.
Alieta Eck (R)
Eck is a physician and former president of the conservative Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and is framing her bid for the Senate around her medical experience and, in particular, her opposition to “Obamacare.” In 2011, She voiced that opposition her testimony before a U.S. Senate committee. In a statement on her new campaign website, she says, “Having more physicians in the Senate who understand the health care system would make real health care reform possible.” In 2003, along with her husband, Eck founded a free clinic for the poor and uninsured in New Jersey. The political newcomer is popular with Tea Party groups.