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Rising star Booker wins US Senate seat

October 17, 2013

NEWARK, New Jersey (AP) — Rising Democratic star Cory Booker, the high-profile mayor of New Jersey’s biggest city, will become just the second African-American in the Senate after winning a special election.

Booker said he was able to help turn around the long-struggling city of Newark and could help channel Americans’ frustration with Washington into something positive after a long, bitter fiscal feud.

“I think everybody feels there’s fatigue and frustration with how things are, which creates a great climate for change,” Booker said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” ″Often before you have great victory, you have to have great frustration.”

Wednesday’s agreement in Washington to re-open the federal government and avert a default overshadowed Booker’s victory over conservative Republican Steven Lonegan in New Jersey.

The 44-year-old Booker has long been touted as a member of a new generation of black politicians like Barack Obama and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick who can win statewide elections. Booker was a prominent supporter of Obama during the president’s 2012 re-election campaign.

Booker was elected to complete the 15 months remaining on the term of Frank Lautenberg, whose death in June at age 89 gave rise to an unusual and abbreviated campaign. If Booker wants to keep the seat for a full six-year term — and all indications are that he does — he will be on the ballot again in November 2014.

Booker heads to Washington with an unusual political resume. He was raised in the suburbs as the son of two of the first black IBM executives, and graduated from Stanford and law school at Yale with a stint in between as a Rhodes Scholar before moving to one of Newark’s toughest neighborhoods.

He’s been an unconventional politician, a former college football player and a vegetarian with a Twitter following of 1.4 million — or five times the population of Newark. With dwindling state funding, he has used private fundraising, including a $100 million pledge from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to run programs in Newark, a strategy that has brought his city resources and him both fame and criticism.

Throughout the campaign, Lonegan was aggressive, criticizing Booker during a string of homicides in Newark, holding a red carpet event in rally to mock the time Booker spent fundraising in California and declaring that “New Jersey needs a leader, not a tweeter.”

Lonegan also criticized Booker when a Portland, Oregon, stripper revealed a series of not-so-salacious Twitter messages she’d exchanged with Booker, who is single. The topic resurfaced last week when Lonegan fired a key adviser after a profane interview in which the adviser suggested Booker’s words were “like what a gay guy would say to a stripper.”

Lonegan had called it “strange” that Booker won’t say whether he’s gay. Booker, for his part, has said his sexuality should not matter to voters and has been elusive on the subject.

At a debate this month, Lonegan responded to Booker’s comments about the need for environmental regulations to clean a river through Newark. “You may not be able to swim in that river,” he said. “But it’s probably, I think, because of all the bodies floating around of shooting victims in your city.”

Booker seemed stunned at the remark, and his campaign has criticized Lonegan for it.

Both candidates drew on some big names for support — Oprah Winfrey helped raise funds for Booker, former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin campaigned for Lonegan.

Booker will join Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina as the only black members of the 100-seat U.S. Senate. Scott was appointed by the state’s governor to fill a vacancy, meaning Booker is the first African-American to win a Senate seat since Obama did in 2004.

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