Cory Booker wins by 11 points, conservatives explain why this is great for them.

Cory Booker Wins by 11 Points, Conservatives Explain Why This Is Great for Them

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 17 2013 10:58 AM

Cory Booker Wins by 11 Points, Conservatives Explain Why This Is Great for Them

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Sen.-elect Cory Booker speaks after winning a special election on Oct. 16, 2013 in Newark, N.J. Booker defeated Republican Steve Lonegan to replace Frank Lautenberg, who died in June, but won by a mere, mere 11 points.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

As Congress was finalizing last night's months-long debt limit/CR deal, Newark Mayor Cory Booker was strolling to an 11-point victory in a special election for New Jersey's U.S. Senate seat. I've got a piece here that tries to sum up the grand hopes that have been put on Booker since he was—oh, God—my age and running for mayor. And I recap the race that was, which closed to a low-double-digit lead for Booker three weeks ago and never got any tighter, despite lots of "Booker stumbling over the finish line" framing.

No, after a career of being feted and celebrated by the media, Booker arrives in D.C. with a victory that conservatives think they can #unskew. The Kabbalah of this theory is John Fund's new article "Dem ‘Referendum’ on Tea Party Fizzles: Booker Margin in N.J. Barely Half of Obama’s in 2012." This is literally the best possible way to spin it.

[Steve] Lonegan lost, but his principled campaign showed the strength of conservative activists in a state that hasn’t voted Republican for president in a quarter-century. Since the campaign culminated with the government shutdown in Washington, it can’t be said that voters rose up to protest Republicans as Obama and Booker urged. In defeat, Lonegan won a higher percentage of the vote for U.S. Senate than any Republican in the Garden State has gotten in a dozen years.
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Well, OK. Let's have some fun with numbers.

- Booker's 55 percent was the most any candidate's won in an open seat race for U.S. Senate in New Jersey since the 1930 election of Dwight Morrow. It's vanishingly rare for a New Jersey candidate to crack 60 percent statewide; it hadn't been done since 1984, the first re-election of Bill Bradley.

- Special Senate elections not held in November are rare. Booker's margin was the highest for any candidate in such a race since 1993, when then-Texas Treasurer Kay Bailey Hutchison won the seat of former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. It was a pretty open secret that the Wednesday, Oct. 16, election would challenge normal Democratic turnout models, and it did. Booker's 713,594 votes (so far) were less than half—more than 1 million short—of what Sen. Bob Menendez won during at year's general election.

- Steve Lonegan's campaign, and the third-party groups fundraising off the race, swore that the race was closer. This was the lede of Lonegan's Wednesday fundraising email:

My name is Steve Lonegan, I'm the Republican nominee for US Senate here in New Jersey. And we're going to shock the world on Wednesday. That's why I need your help. Our latest internal polls have us within just 3 points of winning this New Jersey Senate seat!

Nope. That "internal poll" was always bunk.

If conservatives want to argue that Booker's slightly-lower-than-the-polls-predicted win in a low-turnout special election proved that the "anti-Tea Party" message failed, I guess that's fair. If Terry McAuliffe ends up winning Virginia's gubernatorial race in 19 days, I suppose conservatives can blame that on the Libertarian campaign of Robert Sarvis. But at some point, losing an election means losing an argument.

Oh, one more irony: Booker's win may have moved the Senate slightly to the right, as the late Frank Lautenberg was a reliable liberal and his replacement isn't quite. There's your conservative silver lining.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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