FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012 file photograph, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, right, talks with Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker, during a ceremony in Newark, N.J. On Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012, Booker ruled out a bid for New Jersey governor and is eyeing a run for U.S. Senate in 2014. Booker's announcement on Twitter Thursday ended months of speculation over whether the Democratic Party's biggest draw would seek to challenge Gov. Chris Christie in next year's governor's race. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, file) AP
More good news for Newark Mayor Cory Booker and bad news for U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg in another poll out today.
Booker has a 66 percent favorability rating among registered voters in New Jersey, compared to 45 percent for Lautenberg, according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll. Among Democrats and voters who lean Democratic, 42 percent said they’d like to see Booker win the U.S. Senate seat that comes up for a vote in 2014, compared to 20 percent who prefer Lautenberg. Some 21 percent said they don’t know who they’d like to see win and 17 percent said they’d prefer someone else.
“These numbers suggest that some difficult days may lie ahead for the incumbent senator should he seek reelection,” said Krista Jenkins, director of Fairliegh Dickinson’s PublicMind and a professor of political science.
By now, though, these polls are starting to get repetitive. The basics of the 2014 Booker-Lautenberg dynamic are well known: Booker is more popular and has better numbers than Lautenberg.
The real question, still unanswered, is what are Lautenberg and other Democrats prepared to do about it?
Does Lautenberg gear up for a fight and see if he can chip away at Booker’s popularity? Or walk away? The Senator hasn’t spoken publicly about his future since Booker announced he was eyeing the Senate seat.
Do other Democrats (say, Congressman Frank Pallone) decide to test Booker’s strength? The Newark mayor, after all, is a big hit nationally and a popular figure in New Jersey, but he hasn’t faced a statewide test.
Do Republicans have anyone besides Chris Christie who can mount a credible statewide run?
Remember, there are only three statewide offices in New Jersey. Sen. Bob Menendez just locked up one of them for the next six years. Christie has the other one and almost no one seems eager to get in the ring with him.
That leaves Lautenberg’s Senate seat as the most obvious path to advancement for members of Congress and the state Legislature hoping to expand their profile.
Right now, all signs point to Booker in 2014. We’re waiting to see whether he walks into the nomination, or if Lautenberg or others decide to to test whether those numbers stand up in a real contest.