Booker wins full Senate term

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., addresses supporters during an election night victory gathering, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

NEWARK, N.J. - U.S. Sen. Cory A. Booker won reelection Tuesday, even as broad voter dissatisfaction with Congress ensnared some of his Democratic colleagues.

It remained an open question what role Booker may play in a GOP-controlled Senate, but in an e-mail to supporters late Tuesday, he said he would "work with anyone, from any party, who is willing to join me to move" the country forward.

"We are a nation at war with itself when it comes to our politics, and that has got to end," Booker told supporters Tuesday evening at the Robert Treat Hotel in downtown Newark, where he was mayor from 2006 to 2013.

Joined onstage by mother Carolyn, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, and others, Booker added, "We need to define ourselves not by how well we tear down each other, but by how we build up America. That is our goal."

Booker, 45, who won a special election last year to complete the term of the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, has now earned a full six-year term. He defeated Republican Jeff Bell, 70, New Jersey's GOP nominee for Senate in 1978 and a former campaign aide to President Ronald Reagan.

Booker thanked Bell for "steadfastly . . . serving his country as he believed was right."

Booker's reelection was widely anticipated in a state that has not elected a Republican to the Senate in more than 40 years.

He won last year's race by 11 percentage points over tea-party favorite Steve Lonegan. Some analysts considered that a sizable margin of victory for a special election held on a Wednesday in October in which just 24 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

"The idea that we're a deep, deep blue state is not really true," Booker campaign manager Brendan Gill told reporters, pointing to Republican Gov. Christie's 22-point victory last year.

Nevertheless, Booker suffered from a perception that his soaring oratory and army of 1.5 million Twitter followers were not enough to be successful in New Jersey's rough-and-tumble politics.

From the outset of this year's race, Booker appeared determined to change that perception, using veteran New Jersey operatives to run his campaign instead of the national strategists who led his last one.

During his campaign kickoff in September at Camden County College, he immediately lashed into Bell, describing his proposal to return monetary policy to the gold standard as "voodoo economics."

Throughout the campaign, he portrayed Bell as a tea-party extremist and a "visitor to New Jersey" who had lived in Virginia for 30 years working at Washington think tanks before moving back to Leonia, Bergen County, this year to run for the Senate.

As Booker stayed aggressive, he also promoted what he described as his bipartisan record in Washington, including working with Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) to change the criminal justice system.

His past work in Newark also resonated with voters. "You saw what he did for a terrible city," said Cedeirdre Freeman, a 41-year-old nurse, who voted for Booker in Burlington Township.

"I still think he's sincere. He fights hard. Not many people can speak for me, but he can speak for me."

Bell's signature campaign issue failed to gain traction: A majority of likely voters surveyed in an October Monmouth University poll said they were not familiar with the gold standard.

They were very different candidates in style and substance. Bell, a policy wonk, campaigned against the Federal Reserve's zero-interest rate policy and proudly defended his socially conservative views.

"Cory Booker was once a one-cell zygote," he said during an Oct. 24 debate, explaining his antiabortion stance.

Booker, who played football at Stanford University and became a Rhodes scholar, touted a "prosperity agenda" to lift the middle class, and sought to paint Bell as out of touch.

Booker's campaign raised $17 million for the two-year cycle beginning in 2013 and spent about $4 million this year, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Bell spent about $400,000, or one-tenth of Booker's total, as of Oct. 15, FEC records show.

Bell did not receive help from the national GOP, which focused its efforts elsewhere in its bid to pick up six seats needed to control the Senate.

Booker also had this inherent advantage: Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in New Jersey by 700,000 voters, though a plurality is unaffiliated.


aseidman@phillynews.com

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Inquirer staff writer Michaelle Bond contributed to this article.