NEWARK, N.J. -- In an accelerated election for a new U.S. senator from New Jersey, the Democratic field is Cory Booker vs. everyone else.

The Newark mayor's name recognition and deep-pocketed pals would give him an advantage in any statewide race. But the charismatic Booker – who clearly has national political ambitions and has spent significant time raising his profile on social media and giving speeches around the country – may be more familiar to talk show viewers than to New Jersey voters. His ride to Washington got bumpier when the election was moved up a year because of Sen. Frank Lautenberg's death this month.

Booker, 44, hasn't raised as much money as he hoped. He hasn't finished his second term in Newark, something he promised to do when he decided not to challenge Gov. Chris Christie's re-election bid. And he didn't have time to try to discourage other Democrats from competing against him in a party primary.

Booker is still the odds-on favorite to win the Aug. 13 primary, which is akin to coronation because a Republican hasn't held the seat for more than 40 years. One recent poll had him up by 40 points among other Democrats. It also showed him well ahead of the likely Republican challenger, former Americans for Prosperity state director Steve Lonegan, in the Oct. 16 general election, which will settle the seat for a year.

As few as 200,000 voters could decide the outcome, an anticipated turnout so low it adds to the uncertainty.

It's almost certain that Booker, a Stanford graduate and Rhodes scholar who grew up in the New York suburb of Harington Park, N.J., will be criticized during the primary for his fast-paced ambitions. One opponent, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, offered a glimpse of what is to come by proclaiming, "I don't bring a sense of entitlement" to the race. Oliver, who like Booker is black and from Essex County, could peel away minority and female votes that would otherwise go to Booker.

The two others in the race, Rep. Frank Pallone, a 24-year veteran of Congress with deep ties to organized labor, and Rep. Rush Holt, an astrophysicist and son of a former senator, both have voting records more liberal than Booker's. Additionally, the powerful public teachers union could come out against him because of his push for charter schools, school vouchers and other urban education reforms the union opposes.

Booker's mere entry into this race meant backpedaling on his publicly stated intent to finish his second term as mayor of New Jersey's largest city, which expires next June. Asked about the turnabout during his campaign kickoff at a downtown dot-com, Booker acknowledged that his campaign plans had been upended.

"The reality is we have put so much into the pipeline here in Newark," he said. "The momentum is clear. There is about $1 billion worth of development projects rolling into the city. As much as you might think I am necessary to complete those projects, this momentum will continue, and I will continue to be a part of it."

Though he swears his allegiance to his adopted city, critics say he cares more about building his national brand than fixing the city's systemic problems of crime and joblessness.

"Our infamous name for him is `Mayor Hollywood,' because he's never here," said Newark community activist Donna Jackson. "Or we call him `Story Looker,' because every time you look around, he has another story."

Critics see the rescue of a woman from a burning house and subsequent tweets about the experience (he has 1.4 million Twitter followers) as self-promotional, and say his investment in the downtown has come at the expense of neighborhoods where blight and crime persist. Critics say his trip to California the day after announcing his Senate candidacy for a fundraiser hosted by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is more evidence that he has already put Newark, and New Jersey, in his rearview mirror.

Supporters say Booker has reinvigorated the city.

He has attracted hundreds of millions in philanthropic money – including a $100 million grant from Zuckerberg to improve city schools – cleaned up parks and revitalized a once-moribund downtown that now boasts Panasonic's headquarters, a sparkling new hotel, loft apartments with exposed brick walls, and increased commerce, including a trendy restaurant specializing in gourmet mac and cheese.

Don Katz, founder and CEO of, an audiobook producer and Amazon subsidiary that relocated its headquarters to Newark six years ago, sees a vibrant city that abounds with cultural, culinary and entertainment options, and says he has never regretted moving the company from suburban Wayne to urban Newark.

He said he found Booker to be "an incredibly articulate visionary" whose ideas for urban transformation through the political system resonated with Katz. Both are also like-minded on school reform; among Katz's 600 employees in Newark are interns and graduates of Newark charter schools.

Booker is aware of his detractors but is undeterred by them, beginning with former Mayor Sharpe James, who won re-election against the up-and-coming-councilman in 2002 after a bruising battle documented in the Academy Award-nominated documentary "Street Fight."

"I've heard it," he said, "too much Twitter from the mayor, too much exposure. There's not a criticism I haven't heard over the years. I've heard it all. But there's one thing everyone has to admit about my life as a professional, from my days working in housing high-rises here in Newark as a tenants' rights attorney to my time as mayor, is that I do not run from challenges. I run toward them."


Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Katie Zezima and Samantha Henry in Newark and Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield.

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  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R)

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) had this to say about the passing of Lautenberg, according to the <a href="" target="_blank">Washington Post</a>: "It’s no mystery that Senator Lautenberg and I didn’t always agree. In fact, it probably is more honest to say we very often didn’t agree, and we had some pretty good fights between us over time – battles on philosophy and the role of government, but never was Senator Lautenberg to be underestimated as an advocate for the causes that he believed in and as an adversary in the political world. "I think the best way to describe Frank Lautenberg in the way he would probably want to be described to all of you today is as a fighter. Senator Lautenberg fought for the things he believed in and sometimes he just fought because he liked to. He always reminded me that he was a kid from Paterson whose father died at a very young age, who served in the military and served his country, and then built a business which he was extraordinarily proud of, just as proud of his time at ADP as he was of his many years, nearly thirty years, in the United States Senate, and so today is a sad day for the people of New Jersey. "Whenever we lose someone who’s committed to public service and has been an honest and dedicated public servant as Senator Lautenberg was it’s a loss for everyone. Most particularly it’s a loss for his wife Bonnie and his family, and so our thoughts and prayers are with them today because whatever loss we feel as New Jerseyans and whatever loss his colleagues feel in the United States Senate is minuscule compared to the loss that his family feels, his loved ones, and so I think it would be inappropriate for me to give any other speech today except to ask all of you to pray for the Lautenberg family today, to pray for the soul of Senator Lautenberg, and to give a prayer of thanks for his service to individual New Jerseyans and to our country. "And in the end, all of you who decide to get involved in public service, should aspire to have the same things said about you in whatever role that you play. That you were honest, that you were a fighter for the things that you believe in, and that you gave as good as you got. All those things can be said about Frank Lautenberg. And so I’m sure we’re going to have a number of times over the course of the next few days to reflect upon his life and to pay him tribute in even a more public way. But for this morning, as the leader of this state and our people, I extend to the Lautenberg family and to his staff and friends, our deepest condolences. "And to Senator Lautenberg, I give him praise on a life well lived. I think we’d all sign up today for a life like Frank Lautenberg had of 89 years of fighting and fighting hard. And he’s been a great example for the people of our state and we will certainly miss him. You’re going to have a lot of other things to discuss today at the conference and I look forward to getting reports back on how things went and how they were received. I’m as committed today as I’ve always been to making sure that everybody who can make a positive contribution to government will be given the opportunity to do so and to help to make a difference in our state and our country the way Senator Lautenberg did. So thank you all very much for having me this morning and all the best to you for the rest of the conference. And I look forward to seeing you all very, very soon."

  • President Barack Obama

    Obama released this statement on the passing of Lautenberg: "Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Frank Lautenberg, a proud New Jerseyan who lived America’s promise as a citizen, and fought to keep that promise alive as a senator. The son of working-class immigrants, Frank joined the Army during World War II, went to college on the GI Bill, and co-founded one of America’s most successful companies. First elected to the Senate in 1982, he improved the lives of countless Americans with his commitment to our nation’s health and safety, from improving our public transportation to protecting citizens from gun violence to ensuring that members of our military and their families get the care they deserve. Michelle and I extend our deepest condolences to Bonnie, the Lautenberg family, and the people of New Jersey, whom Frank served so well."

  • Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.)

    Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) released this statement on the passing of Lautenberg: “Today I am shaken by the loss of the Senior Senator from New Jersey – a colleague and my good friend and ally. Frank Lautenberg loved his job and the people who elected him 5 times, who trusted him to always be on their side, and he always was. He was a man for New Jersey, a man for his time, one of the greatest generation, the last in the Senate to have served in World War II. “His story was an American story. He was a man who joined two of his boyhood friends to found a successful business. He did well, and gave something back and New Jersey loved and admired him for what he did for this nation, what he did to help them build a better life for themselves and their families. Whether it was his landmark drunk driving law, the 21st Century GI Bill, or the “Toxic Right to Know” law empowering the public to know what pollutants are being released into their neighborhood, he was a fighter for New Jersey’s working families and the causes he believed in. And, in death, New Jersey’s love and admiration for him will not diminish. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Bonnie and his family.”

  • Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D)

    Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) released this statement on the death of Lautenberg: “Today, the American people lost a true champion. For three decades, Senator Frank Lautenberg worked to make America a stronger, healthier and safer place to live. His legacy will endure for generations. “Senator Lautenberg was a model of leadership and service to me since before I even considered entering elected office. He was a passionate advocate for New Jersey and a crucial and tireless partner who always delivered for the people of Newark. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Lautenberg family.”

  • Former President BIll Clinton, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

    The Clintons released this statement on the passing of Lautenberg: "Hillary and I were deeply saddened to learn of Senator Lautenberg's passing. "New Jersey has lost a favorite son, the country has lost a great legislator, and we have lost a dear friend and cherished colleague. "Throughout his five terms in the Senate, Frank’s vision of a government that served all of its citizens, particularly its youngest, its poorest, and its veterans, never wavered. He fought just as hard for public education and healthcare as he did to preserve Social Security and Medicare, so that the dreams and opportunities of young Americans could not only grow but last an entire lifetime. "Frank was the last WW II veteran in the Senate, and his ardent support of peace and security—within our borders, in Israel, and around the world—has helped build a safer future for generations to come. "Our thoughts and prayers are with Bonnie, his children, and his entire family."

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)

    Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) released this statement on the passing of Lautenberg: "Frank Lautenberg was the very best of the greatest generation. He grew up poor, served his nation bravely during World War II, led a company that created tens of thousands of jobs, and spent the second half of his life giving back via public service. And, boy, did he give back a lot. Our transportation system in the Northeast and the nation would not be as up-to-date and efficient were it not for Frank. And countless people are alive today because of his fight against smoking and Big Tobacco. He was a relentless warrior for common sense gun safety legislation, and so much more. The list of his accomplishments would take many pages. Frank was a close and loyal friend who never put on airs and said what he thought, when he thought it. And he had one of the most endearing senses of humor ever possessed by any public servant. We knew he was ill, but his passing is still a gut shot to those of us who knew and loved him. I am a better person for having known him and America is a better place for having benefitted from his long and rich service."

  • Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

    Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) released this statement on the passing of Lautenberg: “I am deeply saddened at the loss of my friend, Frank Lautenberg. I can think of no better example of an American success story than Frank’s life. The son of Russian and Polish immigrants, a World War II veteran, and a successful businessman turned United States Senator, Frank’s parents arrived in the U.S. when they were young and Frank spent much of his childhood moving frequently around New Jersey with his working class family. He enlisted in the Army at age 18 to defend his country, and with his death there is no longer a World War II veteran serving in the United States Senate. After attending college on the G.I. Bill, Frank went on to co-found ADP, becoming one of the most successful businessmen in the country. “After succeeding in the business world, Frank decided to run for public office and won election to the Senate. As a Senator, Frank never compromised his principles and was a fierce advocate for the citizens of New Jersey. Millions of Americans are healthier and safer because of legislation he championed. Among his many accomplishments, he authored legislation that banned smoking on airplanes and raised the drinking age to twenty-one. Shaped by his own experience, Frank co-wrote the new GI Bill for 21st century veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. And he has fought for years to reduce gun violence in our neighborhoods, authoring the law that prevents domestic abusers from owning firearms. Last month, Frank returned to the Senate to vote on gun violence legislation, a cause he has worked on his entire career. “History will show that Frank is one of the most productive Senators in the history of America. My thoughts are with his family and his wife Bonnie during this difficult time.”

  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel

    Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel released the following statement on the passing of Lautenberg: "I was very saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Frank Lautenberg, the last World War II veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate. Frank was a good friend and respected colleague. He was a strong advocate for the men and women of our armed forces and their military families, and America's veterans. He was a member of America's "greatest generation." His passion and his leadership will be missed. Lilibet and my thoughts and prayers, as well as all of us at the Department of Defense, are with Bonnie and his family."

  • DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)

    DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) released this statement on the death of Lautenberg: “I was saddened to hear of Senator Lautenberg’s passing this morning. The people and State of New Jersey have lost a fighter, an advocate and a man who was devoted to making the American Dream accessible to all New Jersey families. “The son of immigrants who went on to great success in the business world, Senator Lautenberg’s life was the embodiment of the American Dream. He had the distinction of being the last World War II veteran serving in the Senate and will always be remembered as a true fighter for his country and for the people he so ably represented during a distinguished career in public service. “Senator Lautenberg did so much for the people of this country. His work fighting to protect our environment and the health of our children and grandchildren made our world a better place. He helped improve the GI Bill for the 21st Century to make college more accessible to veterans; wrote the ‘Toxic Right to Know’ law that enables communities to know what pollutants are in their neighborhoods; helped ban smoking on airplanes; and wrote legislation that ensured domestic abusers could not possess guns. These are just a few of his many accomplishments in the U.S. Senate. “America owes Senator Lautenberg a debt of gratitude for his lifetime of service to his country and his state. New Jersey families could always count on Senator Lautenberg to fight for them in the Senate. My thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time.”

  • Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)

    Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) released the following statement on the passing of Lautenberg: “Senator Lautenberg was fierce, fearless, and passionate, and he will be missed. New Jersey and America are healthier, safer, and fairer because of the work of Senator Lautenberg. My wife Susan and I send our sympathies to his family. The people of New Jersey have lost a great champion. “Frank Lautenberg took on the special interests, from gun control to the tobacco industry to tax fairness. As the last WWII veteran to serve in the Senate, his service to this country reflected the values and commitment to public service that embodied America’s Greatest Generation, and his legacy will continue for generations to come.”

  • Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)

    Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) released the following statement on the death of Lautenberg: “Gayle and I are deeply saddened to hear that our dear friend Frank Lautenberg has passed away,” Senator Manchin said. “During my time in the Senate, Frank and I worked well together, and I truly admire his dedication and commitment to serving the people of New Jersey and this great nation. Not only did Frank serve the people of New Jersey as a remarkable public servant for more than thirty years, but he courageously fought for his country in World War II. He is the last of that ‘greatest generation’ of World War II veterans to continue their service to this country in the U.S. Senate.” “Frank’s passion to tirelessly work in the Senate was evident throughout the years as he tackled important issues, from fighting to provide quality education for all children to reforming long overdue chemical safety laws. Gayle and I join all West Virginians in keeping Frank’s wife, Bonnie, and his entire family in our hearts and prayers as they go through this difficult time.”

  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released the following statement on the passing of Lautenberg: “Today, our country mourns the loss of Senator Frank Lautenberg – a man whose life embodied the American Dream and who dedicated his career to putting that dream in reach for all Americans. The longest-serving senator in New Jersey’s history and the last remaining World War II veteran in the Senate, he served us all with the strength, perseverance, and compassion that exemplifies the greatest generation. “A proud son of hard-working immigrants, Senator Lautenberg rose from humble beginnings to meet success in business and public service. He was an entrepreneur who turned a small business into one of the largest computing services companies in the world. He was a soldier who put his life on the line to protect our country. He was a Senator who helped ban smoking in airplanes and around children, who worked to ensure parents could take time off to care for sick family members, who helped modernize the G.I. bill to ensure today’s veterans could benefit from the same opportunity that he received. “Senator Lautenberg spent each day fighting to protect and improve the health, security, and well-being of every American. His lifetime of service leaves a legacy we must follow, and an expectation we must meet. We only hope it is a comfort to his wife Bonnie, his children and grandchildren that so many mourn their loss at this sad time.”

  • Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.)

    Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) released this statement on the passing of Lautenberg: “Annie and I are saddened by the passing of our friend, Frank Lautenberg. Frank was not only a determined and accomplished lawmaker, but a remarkable man. I’ve known him in a number of capacities over the years — in our first meeting in Cape Town in 1987, later when he was an ‘I Have a Dream’ program sponsor in New Jersey, and ultimately here as a colleague in Senate. The combination of his personal history, his service to the country, his leadership in business, and his tireless advocacy for the concerns of New Jersey made him a senator whom I really respected. “Frank was a tremendous and fun person to serve with. One night early on in my time in the Senate, we were here very late voting and Frank graciously invited me to dinner. It was the first time I got to see not ‘Senator Lautenberg,’ but ‘Frank,’ just hanging out, telling stories and jokes, and being an engaging, positive and just inspiring person. He will certainly be missed. “My heart goes out to his wife, Bonnie, and his children, Ellen, Nan, Lisa, and Joshua.”

  • Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)

    Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) released this statement on the passing of Lautenberg: “Senator Lautenberg went into politics for all the right reasons. He spent a lifetime courageously fighting for the people of New Jersey and giving a voice to the powerless, and I will miss him greatly.”

  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)

  • Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.)

    Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) released this statement on the passing of Lautenberg: “I am deeply saddened by the news of Senator Lautenberg’s passing. I have known Senator Lautenberg for decades and I have been honored to call him a colleague and friend. My heart and thoughts go out to his wife Bonnie, his children and grandchildren. “Frank Lautenberg was a moral guidepost on so many critical issues. As a leader in the U.S. Senate, his impact was felt on some of the most important issues facing New Jersey and our nation. His work on issues like gun violence prevention, improving our nation’s transit systems and transportation infrastructure, making Americans healthier through anti-smoking initiatives, and rebuilding our state after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy will be recognized for generations. Senator Lautenberg’s dedication to public service was evident in everything he did from his military service, to his philanthropic work, to his time in the U.S. Senate. Frank Lautenberg’s life defined public service and what it means to live the American dream. “Senator Lautenberg has been at the forefront of some of the most important movements to protect our environment, an issue critical to New Jersey and the nation. I witnessed his commitment to environmental stewardship firsthand when we worked together on legislation to address inequities in the Superfund system so we can better clean up toxic sites throughout the state. Senator Lautenberg and I also worked together to champion the issue of keeping our waterways clean and safe when we introduced the BEACH Act. “Like all New Jerseyans, I am grateful for Senator Lautenberg’s service to our state and our nation. I will miss him deeply and I will do my best to continue working on the issues that were so important to both of us.”

  • Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)

  • Former Vice President Al Gore (D)

  • Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.)

  • Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.)

    Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) released this statement on the passing of Lautenberg: “I am heartbroken to learn of the death of my friend Frank Lautenberg. He was a great partner in the work of rebuilding the tri-state area after the 9/11 attacks, fighting for passage of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health Act, pushing for sensible gun control, and most recently in working to recover after Superstorm Sandy. “Frank was a classic American success story: born to modest means, a World War II veteran, a hugely successful businessman, and New Jersey’s longest-serving U.S. Senator. He led a full and long life, and my my thoughts and prayers go to his wife Bonnie, his children and grandchildren in this difficult time.”

  • Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.)

  • Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.)

    Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) <a href="" target="_blank">tweeted</a>: "I’m going to miss my friend and colleague Frank Lautenberg. A veteran, a statesman, and a great champion for NJ and all Americans."

  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)

  • Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)

  • Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.)

  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

    Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) issued the following statement on the passing of Lautenberg: "As one of Congress' last World War II veterans, Frank Lautenberg was a real American hero. I have been privileged to serve with him in the Senate for over two years and to have gotten to know him as public servant and the great person he was. Frank served his country and state with courage and dignity, and I will always remember the way he tirelessly championed the cause of veterans like him who have sacrificed so much for America. "My wife Jeanette and I will always remember Frank for his kindness and generosity. As we settled into life in the Senate, Frank and his wife Bonnie were always incredibly supportive and helpful with their advice and guidance. They helped make our transition easier, and we will always be grateful to them. "May God bless Frank Lautenberg and may He provide comfort and strength to his family during this difficult time."

  • House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)

    House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) <a href="" target="_blank">tweeted</a>: "Saddened by the passing of WWII veteran & US Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Our thoughts & prayers are with his family, friends & the people of NJ."

  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)

    Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) <a href="" target="_blank">tweeted</a>: "Saddened to hear of the passing of Sen. Frank Lautenberg. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends."

  • House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

    House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) <a href="" target="_blank">tweeted </a>: "#RIP Senator Frank Lautenberg. An incredible life of public service."

  • Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)

    Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) <a href="" target="_blank">tweeted</a>: "Thoughts & prayers w/the family of Sen Lautenberg today, the last WWII veteran in the Senate. Thank you for your service to our nation Senator."

  • Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)

    Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) <a href="" target="_blank">tweeted</a>: "I join my colleagues in mourning the loss of Sen. Frank Lautenberg who passed away this morning. My prayers are with his family and friends."

  • Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)

    Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) <a href="" target="_blank">tweeted</a>: "I was glad to work w/ Sen Lautenberg on transportation efforts, & my thoughts & prayers are w/ his friends & family as they mourn this loss." Blunt <a href="" target="_blank">tweeted an additional message</a>: "Sen Lautenberg & I often talked abt his WWII training experience at Camp Crowder in SW MO. That was the start of a life devoted to service."

  • Rep. Jon Runyan (R-N.J.)

  • Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.)

  • Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)

  • House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

  • Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

    Sen John McCain (R-Ariz.) <a href="" target="_blank">tweeted</a>: "RIP Senator Frank Lautenberg, the last WWII veteran to serve in the US Senate. We salute his years of service to his state and nation."

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

    Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)<a href="" target="_blank"> tweeted</a>: "Senator Lautenberg was a true gentleman who will be missed by his family, friends, and colleagues in the United States Senate."