Even though Republican Steve Lonegan is trailing Democrat Cory Booker in the polls for New Jersey's special U.S. Senate election Wednesday, the former Bogota mayor and conservative firebrand insisted to Newsmax that "I will win" because of voter outrage over the implementation of Obamacare.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, the 57-year-old Lonegan pointed out that "since Oct. 1, more than 1 million New Jerseyans have received notices that they must apply for new healthcare plans or that their Medicare has been adjusted. And believe me, they are mad."
The most recent Monmouth Poll showed Lonegan trailing Booker by a margin of 52 percent to 42 percent among likely voters.
Lonegan added without hesitation that if he were in the Senate, "I would have voted with [Texas Republican Sen.] Ted Cruz all the way — to fund the government with a continuing resolution and defund Obamacare."
Underscoring his position as an unabashed tea party conservative, Lonegan spoke to Newsmax on Sunday morning, one day after Sarah Palin appeared on his behalf at a rally at the New Egypt Speedway in New Jersey.
More than 4,000 wildly cheering supporters turned out to see the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, with the crowd warmed up by conservative talk-radio host Mark Levin.
Such a "take-no-prisoners" stand is a bit breath-taking, when one considers that Lonegan is running in a state where a Republican last won a Senate seat in 1972 and which last gave its electoral votes to a Republican presidential candidate in 1988. Also, Republicans who have won in the Garden State are almost always in the more centrist tradition of Gov. Chris Christie, who has endorsed Lonegan but done relatively little to support his candidacy.
In fact, the last Republican senator from New Jersey who could genuinely be called conservative was Joseph Frelinghuysen, who served from 1916-22 and was a close friend and ally of President Warren G. Harding, and is a cousin of current New Jersey GOP Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen.
Coupled with the 11-to-1 spending advantage Newark Mayor Booker has over Lonegan, this history does not bode well for the Republican hopeful. But privately, Lonegan's campaign team is counting on a very low voter turnout Wednesday by the statewide electorate and an all-out effort to turn out Lonegan's hard-core base of support.
"When you get down to the voters likeliest to turn out," Lonegan strategist and pollster Rick Shaftan told Newsmax last week, "my polling shows the race a dead heat."
Lonegan has played to the conservative base by slamming Booker's ties to the entertainment industry — "There's going to be a bigger party in Hollywood than in Trenton if he wins Wednesday" — and his record as Newark's mayor.
As Lonegan told Newsmax, when "unemployment went up from 7.5 to 14.5 percent — the highest of any city in the state — since he became mayor, when taxes went up 47 percent since he took office, when there were 70 murders in Newark last year alone, you have to ask how his failed performance merits a promotion to the Senate."
To help turn out the base, Lonegan is counting on a network of grass-roots activists from tea party groups he helped develop while state director of Americans for Prosperity and as a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 2005 and 2009.
Moreover, he told Newsmax, "We have coordinators from more than 300 churches across the state – Roman Catholic, evangelical Christian, Coptic Christian, and Jewish synagogues."
There is a case to be made that Lonegan's brass-knuckled campaigning has been narrowing Booker's early big advantage. Where a Quinnipiac poll conducted right after the August primary gave Booker a lead of 30 percentage points statewide over Lonegan, the latest surveys, such as the Monmouth Poll, show the Democratic nominee's advantage to be much more modest.
Were Lonegan to push these figures to those spelling his victory Wednesday, the outcome would be nothing short of a political earthquake. In all likelihood, he won't. But, as former Secretary of State James Baker once said, "Overnight is an eternity in politics."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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