From reading the news this week, you might think it is safe to now refer to Cory Booker as the junior Democratic senator from New Jersey.
But Steve Lonegan, the Republican who, like Booker, won his party’s primary Tuesday night for the state’s special U.S. Senate election, strongly cautions against that sort of thinking. The Senate race is hardly over, he tells The Daily Caller.
“I don’t know what you’re seeing down inside the Beltway, but what’s happening there and here are two different things,” Lonegan said Wednesday in a phone interview.
Polls indicate that the 57-year-old Republican former mayor of Bogota, N.J., has his work cut out for him when he faces Booker, the Democratic nominee, in October.
The special election was called to fill the seat vacated by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appointed Republican Jeff Chiesa to temporarily fill the seat until the special election.)
In an interview after a day of campaigning, Lonegan laid out his argument against Booker, the un-married, 44-year-old rising star in the Democratic Party who liberals already mention as a possible presidential candidate.
“Here’s the thing,” Lonegan said. “Cory Booker is about as far left of a liberal that you’d find anywhere in the country, bar none. I mean, this guy is an extremist.”
The Republican said of Booker: “His three biggest issues are gay marriage, taxpayer-funded abortions and raising minimum wage to $10.15 an hour. I mean, that’s it? This is his idea of economic policy? Like shuttering every small business in the state of New Jersey?”
Lonegan argued that the race is “going to be a referendum on the Obama agenda,” and that the “whole country” will watch it.
“This guy says that Obamacare is great, we have to implement it 100 percent, as fast as possible. I mean, he’s a total rubber stamp for every single thing Obama says,” Lonegan said.
The former Americans for Prosperity state director summed up why he thinks his candidacy could take off: “Believe me, our conservative principles resonate across party lines against an extreme liberal like Cory Booker any day.”
“I’m the most well-prepared person there is to go into this battle to our articulate these issues against the guy whose been nothing but a professional politician his whole life,” Lonegan said, “who has never created a single job, who presides over one of the nation’s most failed cities — and his policies are just wrong for the state.”
“I am a committed conservative,” he added. “I’m able to articulate conservative principles in a way very few people can. And I’m not going to back off. This is going to be the clearest conservative versus liberal race in the country. And we’ll win on that divide.”
As for the sort of policies he’ll emphasize in the race, Lonegan mentioned Obamacare, education, the National Security Agency and debt.
“The number one issue is the attack on individual liberty,” the Republican said. “I think that’s the single biggest issue in the state and country right now under the Obama administration. This explosion of federal government that’s just undermining individual liberties at every turn.”
Lonegan said he and Booker differ so much on civil liberties that “this election will not be just a referendum on Obama, but in many ways on the future of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”
The Republican said Booker still needs to answer questions about Waywire, the Internet start-up he has ownership in that has recently been the focus of scrutiny.
“It’s sketchy to say the least,” Lonegan said. “There’s a lot more he needs to tell the truth about this.”
He used Booker’s involvement with the company and relationship with Silicon Valley to argue that if elected, Booker would be “totally beholden” to tech companies, particularly on issues of civil liberties.
“When the U.S. Senate has to vote on these issues of privacy concerning these companies, Cory Booker is totally beholden to these guys,” Lonegan said. “He’s their guy in the Senate. I’ll be standing up for the individual liberty and the privacy of every American.”
A question hanging over the race has been how much Christie, who is facing re-election as governor this year, will help out Lonegan. The two ran against each other in 2009 for governor in the Republican primary.
But on Wednesday, Lonegan said he’s “very optimistic” Christie will provide support. He said the governor left him a congratulatory message on Tuesday night after he won the GOP primary.
“We’ll be doing an event with him next week,” Lonegan said.
Chiesa, the temporary Republican senator, is also expected to campaign for him.
“I think it’s going to be very exciting,” Lonegan said. “The whole country is going to be watching.”