Booker to hold 2014 fundraiser Thursday

Stripped Whipped
Newark Mayor Cory Booker responds at a news conference, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 in Newark. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

WASHINGTON -- Days after campaigning with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono, Newark Mayor Cory Booker is turning his eyes back to his own hopes for higher office – a move that draws attention to a potential 2014 Senate race even as Democrats try to focus on this year’s contest against Gov. Christie.

Booker is holding a fundraiser Thursday in Newark to raise money for a 2014 run for Senate even though, (wink, wink) he hasn’t officially decided to run.

“If you’d like to help as I explore a run 4 US Senate please consider supporting this event in NWK tomorrow,” Booker wrote on Twitter Wednesday afternoon.

UPDATED: It's part of a string of fundraisers he has scheduled over the next month, adding to the mountain of evidence that he will be running. In addition, Booker has a "Contribute" link on his Web site. Donors can pay online or mail checks to "Booker for Senate."

Booker faces a balancing act when it comes to laying the groundwork for a run while also making nice with state-level Democrats. New Jersey Democrats want attention focused firmly on their efforts to beat Christie, or at least keep it close. Party leaders hoped that 2014 Senate talk, thrust into the headlines when Sen. Frank Lautenberg announced his impending retirement, would fade to the background to allow Buono a fighting chance to gain attention.

Booker toured Newark with Buono Tuesday, lending his star power to her campaign and, perhaps, showing Democratic king-makers that he can be a team player, not just a lone star, as many critics grouse. He has promised to be aggressive on her behalf.

But if Booker plans to run for Senate he also needs cash. Congressman Frank Pallone, a fellow Democrat who is also eyeing the Senate seat, had $3.4 million in his campaign fund as of the latest reports.

UPDATED: Along with Thursday's event in Newark, Booker first has scheduled an event at a New York law firm that night and events in Florida March 22 and 23, BuzzFeed reported last week. He's also slated to go to Washington, D.C. in April and then take a star-studded fund-raising swing through California, according to BuzzFeed.

The question is, can Booker raise money, and keep his name in the 2014 mix, without irking the party bosses who already question his commitment to the other New Jersey Democrats? And can he continue dangling the possibility of his run without taking oxygen away from Buono’s campaign?

Here comes a first, early test.