New Jersey "is a model for bad government policy," and that's why Steve Lonegan is seeking the Republican nomination to fill the U.S. Senate seat of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
"The biggest obstacle to U.S. economic growth today is the government," Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota and GOP front-runner, tells Newsmax TV in an exclusive interview. "It's failed government policies on everything ranging from labor issues, to Federal Reserve Bank policy, to economic subsidy policies for businesses, to the high taxes across this country — especially in New Jersey."
Story continues below video.
"We have the highest taxes in the country — and yet, the rest of the country seems to want to follow the New Jersey model," Lonegan adds. "America can lead the world in economic growth. We still do, but we're losing that leadership and we all know it.
"Unless we reverse the trends of the Obama administration, the anti-growth trends and return to individual liberty and relying on the private sector, we're going to continue to lose our leadership in the world's economy."
Lonegan, 57, who served Bogota for 12 years and is a two-time gubernatorial hopeful, is one of two Republicans facing off in an Aug. 13 primary to fill Lautenberg’s seat. He is squaring off against GOP physician Alieta Eck.
Meanwhile, Newark Mayor Cory Booker leads the four-candidate Democratic field, followed by U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone and Rush Holt, and state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie set the dates for both the primaries and the general election — Oct. 16 — last month after naming unelected state Attorney General Jeff Chiesa to fill Lautenberg's seat until the special general election.
Lautenberg, a multimillionaire New Jersey businessman and the last World War II veteran in the Senate, died on June 3 at age 89.
In a recent Quinnipiac University survey, however, 28 percent of GOP voters in the heavily blue state said they were undecided.
"I have an in-depth knowledge of federal economic policy issues," Lonegan, who served as state director for Americans for Prosperity, tells Newsmax. "I am probably one of the few people in the country that actually read the entire Dodd-Frank bill. I've led the effort to repeal cap and trade in New Jersey. I've led the effort to fight Obamacare in New Jersey.
"I'm very well-grounded in the necessary policy issues to go to the Senate, to advocate for this country better than anyone else. That's why I'm running. I'm just at a great point in my life to go down and give 100 percent into fighting for the things that I'm passionate about."
He is quick to distinguish his platform from Booker's.
"I am a conservative, and make no bones about it, I'm proud to be a conservative," Lonegan says. "I believe in the conservative principles on which this nation was built, and those are the principles that can put America back on track to economic prosperity and individual liberty.
"We're very much in a position to win, and this state's looking for conservative leadership. We're raising money. We have a phenomenal ground game in New Jersey — and we're anticipating a terrific turnout by our base come Oct. 16."
Lonegan calls Booker "a far left-wing liberal; he's an extremist," adding that his platform for spurring economic growth in the state is "rather disturbing."
Booker this week proposed an agenda to eliminate childhood poverty that included guaranteeing universal access to preschool starting at age 3 by 2025. He also wants to start college savings accounts for the children of working-class residents who have earned income tax credits.
The Newark mayor also says the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 an hour, should be raised to $10.10 an hour.
"He wants special bank accounts for low-income children or children in so-called low-income families," Lonegan tells Newsmax. "This would include kids that come in under the [immigration reform] bill, in which they'll put $400 a year into every child's account — and it will go up every year with inflation.
"Just a breathless expansion of the welfare state. The same welfare state that has destroyed the city of Newark, Cory Booker wants to take on steroids to the national level."
Lonegan adds that Newark's unemployment rate has jumped to 13.1 percent, from 8.6 percent when Booker took office in 2006. The violent crime rate is twice that of New York City, "and he presides over the most expensive school district in the United States of America, where spending per student is over $30,000, and yet it has a massive dropout rate.
"So his record versus my record, his far-left, liberal agenda versus my conservative agenda, is going to be the dividing line in this election."
And while Booker continues to be seen as the likely Democratic nominee, Lonegan cautions: "Don’t count on that, because Congressman Frank Pallone is a tenacious street fighter. He has a lot of money in the bank. He's a tough candidate in our primary."
© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.