A quiet Senate race favors Democrats in New Jersey (again)
Rarely is a U.S. Senate election as quiet as this year’s matchup in New Jersey, in which U.S. Sen. Cory Booker is widely expected to win a second full term and deliver the Democrats a 17th consecutive win in a Garden State senate race.
“Cory Booker is going to cruise to re-election. I don’t think anybody seriously expects that not to be the case,” said Rowan University political scientist Ben Dworkin. “He’s simply too popular at this point. He is known statewide. And his opponent has not been able to generate the kind of enthusiasm, name recognition, fundraising that it would take to make his own candidacy a real viability.
“There will be an election, but it is really clear that it’s a safe Democratic seat at this point,” he said.
The Republican nominee is Rik Mehta, a pharmacist, lawyer and entrepreneur who used to work for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. An Indian-American, he’s the first non-white nominee for statewide office for New Jersey Republicans. As of mid-October, Mehta had spent just $183,000 on his campaign since the July primary.
“If you did a poll, I doubt that more than 20% of the residents of the state know there’s a race for Senate,” said Rutgers University political scientist John Weingart. “Not many people could name Rik Mehta, who I guess has no money but certainly has gotten no publicity. To the extent there’s any question, it’s just how large Cory Booker’s winning majority will be.”
There hasn’t been much public polling of the race, but the few that have been done show Booker with a lead approaching 25 percentage points. If that proves to be accurate, it would be the biggest margin in a New Jersey Senate race since Bill Bradley’s re-election in 1984.
Booker and Mehta met for their only debate – virtually, as they’ve never actually met in real life – Tuesday evening. The event was hosted by the New Jersey Globe and will be televised this weekend on the Fox affiliates in New York and Philadelphia.
Booker repeatedly emphasized his efforts to work with Republicans in Congress on legislation, such as criminal justice reform to the economic development bill that created “opportunity zones.”
“I’ve been very fortunate to take a spirit of New Jersey in working together across partisan lines to get things done and accomplish in one full term a really great reputation in Washington and beyond for being someone who can do just that – in a time of gridlock, get things done for their home state,” Booker said
“Many of the bills that I’ve written and gotten bipartisan coalitions on have not only been signed by Donald Trump, but they’re his biggest bragging points on his campaign trail,” he said.
Booker repeatedly attacked Trump in the debate, while Mehta nearly as often attacked Gov. Phil Murphy, in particular for coronavirus deaths in long-term care facilities. Mehta said the Affordable Care Act should be replaced and supported the confirmed of new Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
“We have one of the worst business climates out of any other state, and if I can be your next U.S. senator, I can guarantee that New Jersey will be a place to live, not leave,” Mehta said.
Booker ran for the Democratic nomination for president but dropped out of the race Jan. 13, three weeks before the Iowa caucus that was the campaign’s first contest. He said if he’s re-elected, he will complete the term.
“I pledge to finish my full six-year term. That is totally my intention,” Booker said. “I’m excited about it in many ways, as it looks like right now Mitch McConnell, who calls himself the Grim Reaper, who has killed bipartisan bill after bipartisan bill, if we’re in the majority as it looks like it’s possible and in fact likely, I’m going to be the leader on a lot of critical bills that will do a lot of good for the state of New Jersey. So I’m excited about this next six years.”
Mehta said he’s “not sure the people of New Jersey can trust that” after Booker missed more than 65% of votes in 2019, when he was running for president.
Booker said he’s confident the state and local tax deduction will be restored if Democrats win control of the Senate.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.