Polls open 6 a.m. for N.J.'s U.S. Senate election
Polls are open in New Jersey for a special Senate election that’s drawn national attention because of its unique timing and near-celebrity status race pitting hard-to-define Democrat Corey Booker against Tea-Partyish Republican challenger Steve Lonegan.
Their short campaign comes amid the government shutdown, debt ceiling debate and bruising battle over the Affordable Care Act. It also comes after Booker's tweets with a stripper and a profanity-filled rant by a Lonegan political strategist.
And the odd timing of the election stands to keep voting light at the polls, which opened at 6 a.m. and remain open until 8 p.m. In June, Gov. Chris Christie set the election for October, instead of the same date as the November general election, in wake of the death of Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
Booker, Newark's mayor, has a high profile. He’s circulated a petition to end the shutdown and accused Congress of failing voters by not finding a way to work together.
Lonegan supports the shutdown, arguing that the Affordable Care Act should be delayed a year and objecting to the concept of government-directed health insurance.
The election is being looked at by some as a potential proxy for the national debate over the shutdown, possible risk of a default in federal debt and fight over health care.
If campaign contributions are an indicator, Booker appears to be ahead. Filings with the Federal Elections Commission are difficult to gauge since Senate rules and the shutdown have hampered public releases. The most recent data are from July.
An analysis by OpenSecrets.org shows Booker led Lonegan by a commanding amount, especially when outside money, which is up to date, is counted.
The latest data, current as of Monday, show outside groups - PACs and Super PACs, have poured nearly $2 million into the race. Of that total, $1.6 million has been spent on advertising that favors Booker's election, Open Secrets reports. The remainder was evenly split on ads that support Lonegan or attack Booker.
Booker's biggest outside support comes from Independence USA, a super PAC established and mainly funded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It has spent $732,000 on the race, but didn't really pull out all the stops until last week.
OpenSecrets' analysis shows the top conservative group targeting the race is American Commitment, a group linked to an extensive network of politically active nonprofits that hide their donors. The group has spent about $186,000 on ads attacking Booker.
Separately, the the most recent campaign reports from July show Booker had raised $8.6 million to Lonegan's $3.6 million.