Polls show Democratic New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker could be beatable this November in his campaign against lesser-known, under-financed Republican challenger Jeff Bell – even as Booker appears to be winning the popularity contest in Washington, a National Review
"Jeff is a movement conservative who will expose Cory Booker as an empty suit by the time this thing is over," Chamber of Commerce political strategist Scott Reed told National Review, calling the contest a "sleeper race" that will surprise the "Washington know-it-all class."
Writer Eliana Johnson notes, however, that his fiercest opponents in Congress don't seem to be taking him on.
For example, Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who, with Booker, has recently been touting a proposal to reform the criminal justice system, campaigned "energetically against Booker last year."
But at a recent Washington party, "there he was, arm-in-arm with a man who represents the blue-state liberalism he spends most of his time denouncing."
Meanwhile, former Reagan official Bell "even got a chilly reception from Ted Cruz," Johnson reported, citing a source who was at a meeting between the two.
And after a meeting
with the Texas Republican senator in March, Booker bragged about their "great intellectual discussion."
Johnson notes it's a different story in New Jersey, where Booker is polling just 10 points ahead of Bell in a recent Quinnipiac survey,
47 percent to 37 percent.
Booker, who won a special election last October to succeed the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg and faces re-election for a full term in November, is seen favorably by 47 percent and unfavorably by 27 percent.
By contrast, 77 percent of voters don't know enough about Bell to form an opinion. Of the rest, 16 percent view him favorably while just 5 percent view him unfavorably.
Their differences are greater when it comes to fundraising, the Star-Ledger
Booker has raked in more than $9 million from out-of-state – 73.4 percent of his total fundraising haul. Bell has raised a small fraction of what Booker has – $132,815 – and most of it – $109,242 –from outside of New Jersey.
"Why Booker isn’t further ahead, it’s hard to say," assistant poll director Maurice Carroll told the Star-Ledger.
"He’s far enough ahead that it doesn’t look like anybody catches him. But it is a bit of a puzzlement."
National Review's Johnson notes it's Booker’s second statewide race in a year, and it’s the second time polls have shown him vulnerable. Running against Republican Steve Lonegan last year, polls showed the challenger within six points before the election.
"It’s been surprising both times," John Weingart, associate director of Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics, told National Review.
But, Johnson notes, the GOP hasn't been much of a help.
"The refusal to expose Cory Booker is frustrating," a Republican operative told her.
"In 2013 the state GOP appeared to be on lockdown, refusing to go after both Cory Booker and [New Jersey Demoratic Sen.] Bob Menendez."
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