Updated September 10, 11:20 am
Prior to last month the buzz about Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s future was that he would run for U.S. Senate in 2014, challenging Senator Frank Launtenberg if necessary. Booker opened a federal PAC last year and Lautenberg has been sniping at him ever since.
But in the weeks leading up to the convention Booker met with county chairs to plant the seeds of a gubernatorial run against Governor Chris Christie last year. In Charlotte he went into full campaign mode without making an announcement. In the process he made himself the front runner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2013. A Booker candidacy for governor will clear the Democratic field. Without Booker in the race there will be a contentious primary. Senators Dick Codey, Barbara Buono and Steve Sweeney could be contenders. Assemblymen John Wisniewski and Lou Greenwald are acting like candidates. Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage says he will run if Booker doesn’t.
None of the other potential candidates will be able to gain any traction until Booker makes his intentions clear.
As a nod to Booker’s front runner status, Quinnipiac polled a Christie/Booker match up. Christie won the poll by 7%, but Booker’s name was recognised by 60% of those polled. That is an extraordinary high number for a New Jersey politician who has never run a statewide race. Booker has better name recognition than Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. He is as well known and better liked than U.S. Senator Bob Menendez.
Booker told the New Jersey delegation in Charlotte that Christie can be beat and that he is only governor because urban Democrats didn’t come out to vote for Jon Corzine in 2009. The implication is that he can get urban voters out, regardless of the desires of Democratic bosses George Norcross in the south and Joe DiVincenzo in the north who didn’t rev their machines for Corzine in 09.
If Booker runs for governor and beats Christie look for Steve Sweeney to challenge Lautenberg in 2014. If Booker runs against Christie and loses, his brand will be damaged on the national scene, but he will be in a stronger position to beat Lautenberg in 2014 and probably unbeatable in a general election of U.S. Senate.
Both a gubernatorial race and a senate race present risks for Booker who’s term as Newark Mayor expires in 2014. Challenging his friend Christie will inevitably make governing Newark more difficult in 2013. Challenging Lautenberg for a seat that Sweeney also wants and that Launtenberg wants to keep will not be easy and will leave the state Democratic party bloodied.
Running for president presents little downside and quite a bit of upside for Booker. Whoever wins the presidency this year, the race for the 2016 Democratic nomination will start on November 7. Who are the Democratic front runners for 2016? Joe Biden? Biden will only be president if Obama dies or become incapacitated. Hillary Clinton? She says she doesn’t want to run for president again. She probably wouldn’t challenge an incumbent President Romney but might run if Obama wins this time. Not likely. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is acting like a presidential candidate. Booker could beat him. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is not acting like a candidate. Cuomo would probably wait until 2020 if Romney wins. Booker could beat Cuomo too in a 2016 match up.
Regardless of who wins the presidency this year, unless there is an African-American contender for either party nomination in 2016, Obama will be a historical fluke for at least a generation.
Booker should consider finishing his term in Newark and, with Christie’s help, make real and sustainable improvements to New Jersey’s largest city while building his national organization for a 2016 run for president. If he succeeds, he is president. If he fails, he is a shoe in for governor in 2017.
The New York Post is reporting that Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, the head of the Democratic Governors Association, has twice in recent months rebuffed Booker’s requests that the DGA get involved in the NJ gubernatorial race.
O’Malley has been a keynoter at NJ Democratic fundraisers in recent years. He will want to lock up New Jersey’s support for a presidential bid early. He has also been an Christie antagonist.