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NJ’s Senate Seat Battle Could Get Ugly [AUDIO/VIDEO]

We still don’t know if Jersey’s senior U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg will seek another term next year, but one man who wants his job is reminding everyone that as Lautenberg approaches his 89th birthday later this month, the Senator “has a decision to make.”

Cory Booker annouces intention to run for US Senate
Cory Booker annouces intention to run for US Senate (YouTube)

Newark Mayor Cory Booker has been nothing but complimentary to Lautenberg so far, but many political science experts think he’s following a carefully laid out strategy.

Booker told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien he has tried unsuccessfully to arrange a meeting with Lautenberg.

“I hope to talk to him–we’ve reached out to him a number of times. In fact, I had a plane trip going down to meet with him and unfortunately, with a lot of the challenges going down in Washington, he had to cancel the meeting,” Booker said on her program Starting Point.

Krista Jenkins, the Executive Director of the FDU PublicMind poll, says Booker’s “decision” comment was made “not only to get Lautenberg to ponder the situation, but also, he’s trying to get support if he winds up challenging the incumbent Senator because, obviously, the more party faithful he has behind his run for the nomination, the better off it is for him in the long run.”

She says this all may be worked out behind closed doors, or it could come down to a primary fight, because “with New Jersey you always can’t write off some degree of ugliness in any kind of partisan contest so I wouldn’t say that’s unlikely…Time will tell – it’s in Senator Lautenberg’s court as to when he’ll reveal what his decision is as he moves forward.”

Jenkins adds, “Cory Booker needs to be strategic, and I think if you look at his political history, he has shown himself to be a very strategic politician…the fact that Lautenberg is turning 89 could be a factor in how this plays out…the data so far suggests his age could potentially be a liability for him as he moves forward.”

Dr. Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University agrees, but she points out, “Frank Lautenberg, despite his advanced age still remains a very feisty politician, and number two, you also are making that statement in front of an electorate that has a significant number of senior citizen voters – you don’t want to alienate those voters by saying I’m the heir apparent here and I’d like to be in the U.S. Senate.”

Harrison believes there will be gentle prodding, behind the scenes – to have Lautenberg not run – by staff, family and within democratic party circles, because “they don’t want Senator Lautenberg to run and lose – that’s the worst-case scenario.”

If Lautenberg decides to not bow out gracefully, she expects there to be a rough and tumble primary fight in the spring.

“Oh absolutely,” says Harrison, “I would be surprised if there wouldn’t be – there could be any number of democrats interested in running – including Congressman Frank Pallone. “if it comes down to a primary, I think it’s going to be expensive and it’s going to be nasty and there will probably be some geographical divisions.”

Congressman Frank Pallone (D) during MSNBC interview
Congressman Frank Pallone (D) during MSNBC interview (MSNBC)

The 6th district Congressman told MSNBC “The senator knows that I’d like to run, and I, of course, have been talking about this for a long time. It’s definitely something that I’m considering and I’m interested in.” But Pallone added, “I think maybe we should be worrying about this Senate race a little later. I’m not saying I can’t beat (Booker). I’m just saying we need to concentrate now on getting these (Sandy relief) bills passed in Washington and deal with the Senate race later.”

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