Two of the most powerful Democrats in New Jersey are backing Newark Mayor Cory Booker in his bid for the state's open U.S. Senate seat in this year's special election.
Booker has picked up backing from businessman George Norcross, the Democratic leader of South Jersey, and Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo. The two have the power to deliver a significant voter block to Booker in his August primary battle against Rep. Frank Pallone, Rep. Rush Holt and state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange). Gov. Chris Christie (R) called the Aug. 13 primary and Oct. 16 special election last week following the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D). Former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan is the only Republican candidate, with filing scheduled to close at 4 p.m. Monday. Sen. Jeff Chiesa (R) was appointed by Christie to fill the seat until October.
Booker holds a commanding lead in early polling.
Norcross told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he believes that Booker is more in tune with him ideologically, citing Booker's work on education issues in Newark.
“I believe he’s a winner,” Norcross told the Inquirer. “And he’s representative of a new Democrat -- a Democrat that’s fiscally conservative yet socially progressive. He’s a fighter and not afraid of taking on a tough battle.”
Norcross' endorsement delivers key South Jersey support for Booker in the two-month primary campaign. The Norcross organization is one of the most powerful in the state.
DiVincenzo appeared with Booker at his announcement Saturday, PolitickerNJ.com reported. DiVincenzo, popularly known as Joe D., has the ability to deliver a strong voter base for Booker in Essex County and in Newark's north ward. DiVincenzo is a product of the north ward and aligned with powerful ward Democratic leader Steve Adubato.
DiVincenzo's backing is a blow to Oliver, the Assembly speaker, who works in his county administration and is closely aligned with him. His backing helped propel Oliver to the speakership. DiVincenzo stands to gain even more with a Booker win: There is a possibility that acting Newark City Council President Anibal Ramos (D), a north ward resident and DiVincenzo ally, could serve as acting mayor for the remainder of Booker's term if the current mayor were to win. Ramos is running for mayor next year.
Booker started increasing his outreach to local Democrats throughout New Jersey when he formed a Senate exploratory committee earlier this year. This includes headlining recent events for state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) and Westfield Democratic mayoral nominee Dave Haas.
A third powerful Democrat, Jersey City Mayor-elect Steve Fulop, sent out a tweet Saturday reminding his followers that the candidates for Senate did not back him in last month's mayoral election. The race has no primary and pitted Fulop against former Mayor Jerramiah Healy (D). Fulop soundly defeated Healy (D).
Fulop tole The Huffington Post that his focus is not on the Senate race and he was just sharing his views.
"It's fairly straight forward, was just expressing sentiment," Fulop said. "I have a runoff and reorganization of the Democratic Party in Jersey City this week and that is the priority. No real urgency on my part as I am focused on Jersey City. After done with that will sit down with candidates and see what makes sense."