Steve Lonegan, who won the Republican Party's New Jersey Senate nomination on Tuesday, promised a fall campaign that is "hard-hitting and draws the clearest line in the sand of any race in New Jersey history."
"The gloves are already off" in the upcoming race with Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Lonegan said in an exclusive interview with Newsmax hours before voting in the primary in which he won nearly 80 percent of the vote.
Booker's record in City Hall on issues such as crime, taxes, and economic development would be particular targets, Lonegan, 57, told Newsmax.
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Voicing surprise that none of Booker's Democratic foes brought up his mayoral record, Lonegan insisted that "with unemployment up from 7.5 to 14.5 percent — the highest of any city in the state — since he became mayor, taxes up 47 percent since he took office, and violent crimes, murders, and robberies all increasing in the last three years, you'll hear a lot from me about Booker's failed performance."
"He's turning Newark into another Detroit," Lonegan said. "I can't explain why the Democrats did what they did in the primary. Maybe it's because they all share in the big-spending, high-regulation agenda."
Lonegan made it clear that everything was on the table in the race against Booker. He will make his own record as owner of a small business — "I've actually created real jobs" — a cornerstone of his campaign, contrasting it with "my opponent collecting $1.5 million in speaking fees while mayor and, as The New York Post reported this week, his getting payments from his former law firm while in office."
Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota, N.J., faces an uphill battle against Booker, who rolled up 59 percent of the Democratic primary vote over Reps. Rush Holt and Frank Pallone and State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. The latest Quinnipiac poll taken earlier this month shows Booker with a 54 percent to 29 percent lead over Lonegan.
Related: Booker, Lonegan Win NJ Special US Senate Primaries
In a state where centrist Republicans rather than hard-charging conservatives are usually nominated for statewide office, Lonegan is inarguably an exception.
Unabashedly pro-life and for traditional marriage — "the greatest invention devised by God," he says — the Republican nominee vividly contrasts his stand with that of Booker, "who is 100 percent pro-abortion right up to the day of delivery and gets support from Oprah Winfrey, Barbra Streisand, and the Hollywood elites."
"California does not need a third senator," Lonegan said.
In the closing days of the campaign, the Lonegan campaign's undisguised desire to hit hard at Booker created a flap. A tweet sent out on the campaign's Twitter account showcased a map of Newark with various neighborhoods identified as Latin American, African and Islamic areas. The map was jokingly dubbed "Cory Booker's foreign policy debate prep notes."
Although Republicans from Gov. Chris Christie on down denounced the tweet and Lonegan himself said he disapproved of it, the candidate nonetheless told reporters that the controversy "helped drive turnout. People are sick and tired of this politically correct nonsense."
In his winning GOP primary contest, Lonegan raised more than $400,000 and relied strongly on a volunteer organization made up of tea partiers, pro-lifers, gun-owners, and conservatives the candidate met during his seven years as state head of Americans for Prosperity.
After a losing bid for Congress in 1998, Lonegan made two unsuccessful races for the Republican nomination for governor in 2005 and 2009. In his last race, he was defeated by Christie and then supported him in his winning general election race.
With Christie headed for a landslide re-election in November with considerable support from Democrats, does Lonegan expect the governor to campaign for him in the October special election?
"I think he'll do the right thing," Lonegan said.
In a state where Republicans last won a Senate race in 1972 and where the Democratic nominee is a national political figure, the self-styled "grass-roots guy," Lonegan, freely admits he has an uphill battle.
"But hey, this year we're the only game in town," he said. "You'll hear a lot about me."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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