By Victoria Cavaliere
NEWARK, N.J. Oct 16 Democrat Cory Booker, the
charismatic mayor of Newark, was the unofficial winner of a New
Jersey special election on Wednesday, handily defeating a
conservative Republican to fill the state's vacant U.S. Senate
Booker, who had been heavily favored in polls, defeated
conservative Republican Steve Lonegan, a former small-town
mayor, according to tallies published online by The New York
Times, Politico and the Star-Ledger newspaper.
The tallies showed Booker with an 11 point lead over Lonegan
with more than 90 percent of the votes counted.
Booker, 44, spoke to cheering supporters in Newark where he
thanked them for turning out to vote against the backdrop of the
16-day government shutdown and partisan battling in Washington.
"It would have been easy to listen to this frustrating
negativity and stay home today. But here in New Jersey, more
than a million people rejected cynicism and came out on a
Wednesday, in the middle of October, three weeks before we have
another election, to fight the cynicism," he said.
"You didn't just vote, you believed that your vote and
choice mattered," he said.
Booker becomes the first black U.S. senator from New Jersey.
In Washington, Booker will join Republican Tim Scott of South
Carolina as the nation's only two black senators.
He will fill the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Frank
Lautenberg, who died in June at age 89.
Booker, a Rhodes scholar and Yale Law School graduate,
rocketed to fame as a booster for the state's largest city, 12
miles (19 km) from Manhattan, which has struggled with poverty
and persistently high crime.
His first run for mayor was documented in the
Oscar-nominated film "Street Fight." Booker is known to rub
shoulders with celebrities and is a near-constant presence on
During Booker's tenure as mayor, Newark received a $100
million gift to its schools from Facebook founder Mark
Zuckerberg, who said he had met Booker and was impressed by his
Lonegan is the former mayor of Bogota and former state
director of Americans for Prosperity, a political advocacy group
funded by the conservative Koch brothers.
He has said he opposed federal aid to victims of Superstorm
Sandy and more recently voiced support for the Republican House
members who forced the government shutdown.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican seeking
re-election and a possible White House contender in 2016, chose
Oct. 16 as the special election date.
Democrats said he could have scheduled the special election
for Nov. 5, the day of the general election, and accused him of
self-interest and wasteful spending.
They said he was avoiding being on the same ballot as
Booker, who could attract Democratic and minority turnout and
cut into Christie's chances of winning re-election by a large
Christie, who said politics did not play a role in the
decision, said he wanted to let New Jersey voters have a
permanent voice in the Senate as soon as possible.