Booker ramping up Senate re-election effort
BLACKWOOD (AP) — U.S. Sen. Cory Booker formally launched his re-election campaign Wednesday with testimonials from a college student, firefighter and small business owner and an introduction from his mother as he tries to portray himself as a bipartisan problem-solver.
The Democratic senator had a national following as mayor of Newark and was elected last year to fill the remainder of late Sen. Frank Lautenberg's term.
Most observers expect him to be re-elected in November, but a poll last month showed him only 10 percentage points ahead of little-known and little-funded Republican challenger Jeff Bell. The margin is close enough that Bell hopes it gives him a funding boost and a chance to become the first Republican elected to the Senate from New Jersey since 1972. Bell has begun airing a radio commercial touting his campaign's central issue: the idea of again backing the U.S. dollar with gold.
Booker's campaign was quiet until last weekend, when he accepted the endorsements of several environmental groups and made a public appearance with former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley.
At Camden County College in Blackwood on Wednesday, he was surrounded by students holding campaign signs and Democratic officials from southern New Jersey as he gave a 20-minute speech. He had additional stops planned Wednesday for Perth Amboy and Garfield.
"We need to bring this country together," Booker said. "We need to build bridges, not burn them."
His campaign is emphasizing that he's willing to work across the aisle on issues where he has common ground with Republicans. He pointed out times he has worked with Republicans, including when he and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky introduced a bill intended to reduce the prison population and give those with criminal records a better chance after they have served their time. Provisions include making it easier to seal criminal records of non-violent offenders are restoring welfare programs for people convicted of low-level drug possession.
In an interview Wednesday, Booker, known for having a big following on Twitter, said he has shared a meal with about half the members of the Senate since he went to Washington last year. He's also posted selfies with several colleagues, including some Republicans.
In Blackwood, he went after Bell, who also ran for Senate in 1978 and 1982 before moving to Washington, D.C., and spending more than 30 years as a policy consultant and think-tank official. He moved back to New Jersey in the past year.
Booker criticized Bell as someone with "30 years of Washington insider experience." Booker also said that Bell opposes personal freedoms with his positions against abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
Booker, who was one of President Barack Obama's earliest supporters in New Jersey, did not mention the president, whose population has waned nationwide, in his speech.
In a news conference, he was asked why.
"This is not about who the president is," Booker said. "It's about who's going to be the U.S. Senator from New Jersey."
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