Lonegan campaign deletes racially-charged Booker tweet

UPDATED below with some blistering comments from Lonegan opponent candidate Alieta Eck and Democrat Sheila Oliver, and the Lonegan campaign response.

WASHINGTON -- Steve Lonegan, the conservative Republican running for the GOP Senate nomination, is known for his no-holds-barred politics.

But even he apparently thought his campaign went too far Thursday night when it sent a racially-tinged tweet about Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the front-runner in the Democratic race. It was quickly deleted, according to Politico, which first reported on the message.

But the tweet brought blistering responses from Democrats and Lonegan's Republican opponent, Alieta Eck, and threatens to damage Lonegan in the final days leading to Tuesday's primary and before the general election begins.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a Democrat running for Senate, said that regardless of the primary results her party will come together "to ensure that someone with such extreme views has no place in the United States Senate.”

Eck called the tweet "horrifyingly racist."

The tweet purported to be Booker's "foreign policy debate prep notes.” Below was a map of Newark, with hand-written labels marking sections as “West Africa, Guyana, Portugal, Brazil.”  The city is largely African-American, and has a big Portuguese influence in its Ironbound section.

The tweet came from @LoneganForNJ, the Lonegan campaign's official account. It arrived as Democrats held their second primary debate and a campaign manager said Lonegan quickly demanded its removal.

"Anyone who knows Steve Lonegan knows it's not reflective of how he thinks," said Lonegan senior staffer Rick Shaftan.

But the tweet is already being used by Democrats and Republicans to further the narrative long employed against Lonegan: that he is too extreme for New Jersey.

"The Lonegan campaign’s tweet is inappropriate, offensive and fundamentally out of step with New Jersey values. It’s also not surprising," said Booker campaign manager Addissu Demissie. "This is the same misguided person who was offended by an advertisement simply because it was in Spanish. We need leaders who will lift up our communities, not tear them down – leaders like Cory Booker."

UPDATE: The campaign for Eck, the physician running against Lonegan in the GOP primary, said the tweet shows that he is "completely unviable" as a Republican nominee.

"Steve Lonegan just continues to demonstrate how uncomfortable he is addressing people other than his own acolytes," said Eck campaign manager Thomas Roberts. "From his English language debacle in Bogota, to his refusal this week to meet with the NAACP in Newark, and finally last night's horrifyingly racist tweet, how on earth is he supposed to 'represent' a state as culturally rich and diverse as New Jersey in the Senate? He is completely unviable as a candidate, and I think he owes a lot of people an apology." 

Oliver said, "It is clear that this is indicative of Steve Lonegan’s extreme right-wing views. No matter who wins on Tuesday, Democrats will join together to show that such racially charged rhetoric has no place in our public discourse."

UPDATE: Shaftan, one of Lonegan's top aides, said the tweet came from a staffer and that Lonegan himself quickly demanded its removal.

"Is (Eck) saying that you should not vote for Steve Lonegan because he took down the tweet? Is that what she’s saing?" Shaftan asked. "If it was left up then you could clearly say it reflect the campaign."

He added, "because Alieta Eck is perfect. Alieta Eck's never made a mistake in her life ... Is she saying she's perfect?"

He added that the map may reflect the actual cultural make-up of sections of Newark.

Earlier, he explained how the tweet got posted and quickly came down.

"The minute I saw it I got a phone call from Lonegan, who said 'What is this?'" Shaftan said. "Somebody thought it was funny, people have weird senses of humor."

Shaftan said Lonegan "didn’t find it humorous in any way."

He said it was done by a staffer, but that no one would be fired over the tweet.

"People make mistakes," Shaftan said. "It ain’t gonna happen again, I’ll tell you that."

Lonegan and Booker are favored in their parties' Tuesday primaries and likely to face one another in the Oct. 16 special election for Senate.

You can follow Tamari on Twitter or email him at jtamari@phillynews.com.