NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Newark Mayor Cory Booker won a special election Wednesday to represent New Jersey in the U.S. Senate, giving the rising Democratic star a bigger political stage after a race against conservative Steve Lonegan, a former small-town mayor.
With nearly all precincts reporting, Booker had 55 percent of the vote to Lonegan's 44 percent. The first reaction from the social-media savvy victor came, of course, on Twitter: "Thank you so much, New Jersey, I'm proud to be your Senator-elect."
In a speech later to supporters in Newark, Booker spoke, as he often does, of the unity of the American people.
"That's why I'm going to Washington — to take back that sense of pride. Not to play shallow politics that's used to attack and divide but to engage in the kind of hard, humble service that reaches out to others."
He also told of how his father, who died last week at 76, taught him about love and hard work, values he says he'll carry to the Senate.
Booker, 44, will become the first black senator from New Jersey and heads to Washington with an unusual political resume. He was raised in suburban Harington Park as the son of two of the first black IBM executives, and graduated from Stanford and law school at Yale with a stint in between as a Rhodes Scholar before moving to one of Newark's toughest neighborhoods with the intent of doing good.
He's been an unconventional politician, a vegetarian with a Twitter following of 1.4 million — or five times the population of the city he governs.
With dwindling state funding, he has used private fundraising, including a $100 million pledge from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to run programs in Newark, a strategy that has brought his city resources and him both fame and criticism.
Booker was elected to complete the 15 months remaining on the term of Frank Lautenberg, whose death in June at age 89 gave rise to an unusual and abbreviated campaign. If he wants to keep the seat for a full six-year term — and all indications are that he does — Booker will be on the ballot again in November 2014.
Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican with a national following of his own, appointed his attorney general, Jeffrey Chiesa, to the Senate temporarily and scheduled a special election for a Wednesday just 20 days before Christie himself is on the ballot seeking re-election. Christie said he wanted to give voters a say as soon as legally possible.
Democrats challenged the timing, saying Christie was afraid of appearing on the same ballot as the popular Booker. But courts upheld the governor's election schedule.
Booker had a running start on the election. Before Lautenberg died, Booker passed up a chance to run against Christie this year, saying he was eyeing Lautenberg's seat in 2014, in part so he could complete a full term as mayor — something he won't do now that he's heading to Washington.