Newark Mayor Cory Booker has not formally launched a U.S. Senate bid, but for months he's been building a campaign operation and raising money. His goal, he's often said, was to focus this year on helping state Sen. Barbara Buono challenge New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Now Buono may have to wait, and Booker will have to operate in fast forward.
Following the death this week of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who'd planned to retire at the end of his term in 2014, Christie announced that a primary will be held in August and a general election in October to fill the seat.
The process will cost about $24 million, which is in a way a testament to Booker's popularity in the state since voters were already heading to the polls in November.
The conventional wisdom is that the fiscally tight-fisted governor made the decision in large part because he doesn't want to share a ballot in November with Booker, who has more than 1.3 million Twitter followers. The move will help him demonstrate his own bipartisan appeal among voters with a much wider margin as he weighs a potential presidential bid in 2016.
It is widely believed that the shortened campaign season also helps Booker.
"He is better known and probably will have a financial advantage over his likely opponents who will have less time to raise money and organize," said Robert Smith, a political scientist at San Francisco State University. "And given his widespread support in the national media and name recognition, he is considered the favorite to win the Democratic nomination and probably the election, as well."
Still, Booker will have to break his pledge to complete his term, which ends next year. In addition, he will have much less time to resuscitate and defend his checkered record as mayor.
That also could be to his advantage, said David Bositis, senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Unlike some of his potential rivals, Booker doesn't have a voting record that can be used against him. Bositis also is not certain that the criticism that Newark hasn't shown enough improvement under his leadership will be very effective.
"He's been preparing to run for higher office probably for five years," Bositis said. "This race is his to lose."
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