Booker pledges to run as a uniter

WASHINGTON -- Pledging to bridge divides and unite partisans in a polarized U.S. Capitol, Newark Mayor Cory Booker formally launched his campaign for New Jersey's open Senate seat Saturday in his home city.

"Newark is charging back and I didn’t do it alone. If I can claim any credit, it is that I was successful in bringing people together, who believe that better things are possible," Booker said this morning at the headquarters of, a company that moved to Newark in 2007.

He described a "broken" system in Washington that he argued he can repair.

"This is what we need now: more and more people that help us transcend the lines that divide, and embrace the ties that bind," Booker said in a speech streamed on his newly-revamped Web site. "I will be relentless in my pursuit of common ground, unyielding in my effort to bring people together and choosing pragmatism over partisanship."

Booker has another event scheduled in Willingboro, N.J., later this afternoon. He was introduced in Newark by former N.J. Senator Bill Bradley.

Bradley called Booker a "leader who accepts the radical premise that you can tell people exactly what you believe and win."

He added, "I am very delighted to endorse his candidacy. I think he can be a great United States senator, he can put us in touch with our better selves."

Other supporters who spoke to the Inquirer Friday and in May see Booker, 44, as a future national leader, who they say can become one of the most visible progressive voices in the nation.

Long-expected to enter the race, Booker is seen by many as the favorite to win the Democratic nomination and the Senate seat, though the short run-up to the August primary may diminish some of his advantages.

He'll face a challenge from Democratic Congressman Rush Holt, of Central Jersey, who has already declared that he is running, and likely from Frank Pallone, of the Shore, who is expected to formally enter the race before Monday's filing deadline.

The primary will likely come down to two competing messages: Holt and Pallone have cast themselves as the kind of liberal champions that the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg was. Booker is vowing to be a uniter who crosses party lines.

"Too many have come to believe that Washington, DC is a place where nothing can get done, where people don’t work together ... this has to end." Booker said.

On the Republican side, the only well-established name running so far is Steve Lonegan, the conservative firebrand who was once mayor of Bogota, a small town in North Jersey, and has twice run for governor, falling short in the 2005 and 2009 primaries. Until declaring his candidacy, Lonegan led the New Jersey chapter of the Koch-brothers backed conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

Booker enters the race with a national profile and as one of New Jersey's most well-known and liked politicians -- even in normally Republican strongholds such as Morris County.

He'll face a challenge, though, from two Congressmen who have longer, deeper ties to the party, and he'll see his shining national reputation tested by opponents who challenge his record in Newark. He has long faced criticism that he has built his name at the expense of accomplishments at home -- an issue national Republicans are already attacking.

"It remains to be seen whether Cory Booker the candidate can match Cory Booker's celebrity persona in this kind of race," Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the GOP's national Senate campaign arm, said Friday.

Today, Booker said, "There’s not a criticism that I have not heard over the years, but there’s one thing that everyone has to admit about my life as a professional … I do not run from challenges, I run towards them."

But to win, he will have to overcome rough relationships with some local party leaders and questions about the substance of his work in New Jersey. We outlined the likely campaign against Booker in February, after Lautenberg announced he would not seek another term.

Booker began his comments by praising Lautenberg, who died Monday, and had been irked by the mayor's public moves toward a Senate run.