So, today, Cory Booker made it official; he announced he’s running for the U.S. senate, to fill the New Jersey seat left vacant by the recent death of senate veteran Frank Lautenberg.
As you may have guessed, if you know me and my writing, I’m not a big Cory Booker fan. It’s not so much his self-aggrandizing, Dear Leader tendencies (though Corey Robin is very entertaining on that particular). Nor is it that his job performance is not all it’s cracked up to be, although yes, there’s that, too.
Mostly, it quite honestly comes down to ideology, pure and simple. Booker is a neoliberalish Dem who supports much of Chris Christie’s school “reform” agenda, frequently favors the privatization and outsourcing of public sector jobs, wants to invest hard-earned public employee pensions with private equity firms (a truly terrible idea) and had tender words on behalf of Bain Capital during last year’s presidential election. He’s certainly not alone among Democrats in possessing those types of ideas and affiliations. But let’s just say I greatly prefer populist Democrats of the Elizabeth Warren stripe.
I’m a New Jersey native and though I no longer closely follow the state’s politics, from a distance, it certainly looks like Booker is the candidate to beat. He’ll probably win the August Democratic primary. He’s the only candidate in the race with statewide name recognition, he’s all but certain to have the African-American vote sewn up, and, if the past is any predictor, he’ll receive boatloads of Wall Street cash. With those major advantages, the state’s all-important Democratic political machines are likely to quickly fall in line. And then, since Jersey is an increasingly blue state, Booker should have an easy time winning the general election in October.
Congressman Frank Pallone, another likely Democratic candidate, has strong union support, which Booker does not, and that is not nothing in a state like Jersey, even in these anti-labor times. But at this point, it looks as if he’s unlikely to overcome Booker’s formidable advantages.
The only way I can see Booker screwing things up, really, is if he gets too arrogant. Earlier this year, Booker took a PR hit when he started publicly pressuring Lautenberg to retire. Booker looked like a bully. Everyone knew Lautenberg was going to retire anyway; why couldn’t Booker let the old man announce his retirement in his own time, with dignity? (Which, in short order, he did).
As long as Booker doesn’t get in his own way, though, it’s hard to see anything else stopping him. He will, however, have some pretty big shoes to fill. So, while I’m on this subject, I might as well take this opportunity to plug my tribute to the late Senator Lautenberg, which I wrote earlier this week for the excellent National Memo, a relatively new progressive site (you should definitely bookmark it!).
The piece is heartfelt. One of the first votes I ever cast in my life was for Frank Lautenberg. Of all the senators I’ve ever voted for, in three states now (New York, New Jersey, and Illinois; said senators included Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton), Lautenberg was the most progressive and my favorite overall. There is something about the anti-charismatic, ornery old S.O.B. that greatly appealed to me — probably because, like the state he came from, he was perennially underestimated and underrecognized. One especially interesting thing to note about him: his populism was the real deal, not the fake Republican variety, and he remained a New Dealer to the end. His last major legislative effort was a bill to create a 21st Century WPA We should do it.