NEWARK, N.J. -- Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who has used his social-media and political savvy to gain national prominence, is in the race to finish the U.S. Senate term of Frank Lautenberg, who died Monday.
Booker, a Democrat, planned to hold a conference call with top supporters Friday and announce his entry into the race Saturday, a campaign staff member said Friday. The staffer was not authorized to speak publicly on the plans ahead of the official announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Booker was expected to run and begins the race as a front-runner.
The only other Democrat who has announced plans to run is U.S. Rep. Rush Holt. But a second congressman, Frank Pallone, who had $3.7 million in his campaign coffers at the end of March and has deep union support, could also enter by Monday's deadline.
Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, announced this week that there would be party primaries Aug. 13 and a special general election Oct. 16, less than three weeks before the general election that features Christie's re-election bid.
Christie says he made the election schedule to allow voters to choose their representation as soon legally possible, but some critics believe he also does not want to be on the same ballot as Booker, even if the two are running for different offices. The two are by far the most notable politicians in the state and have significant national profiles.
Christie has appointed state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa to serve in the Senate until after the October special election. Chiesa told Christie he wouldn't run in the election.
The only Republican running so far is Steve Lonegan, a former Bogota mayor who runs the New Jersey office of Americans for Prosperity.
Booker, 44, is an unconventional politician with a penchant for tweaking the establishment and unconventional following.
He has 1.4 million followers on Twitter – or five for every resident of the city where he's the mayor. He tweets frequently, answering questions about city services, posting about his workouts and, perhaps most often, trying to provide inspiration. For instance, late Thursday night, he sent this message: "We were born original without limitation, live your truth don't die an imitation."
He's always been good at getting attention, including a 10-day hunger strike years ago to protest open-air drug dealing and, last year, living on a food-stamp budget for a week.
In 2012, he rescued a neighbor from a burning home.
Booker has a running start in the race because he got in it early, even before Lautenberg announced in February that he would not seek re-election in 2014. As of March 31, Booker had raised $1.9 million.
Some Democrats were pushing Booker to run for governor this year because they saw him as the Democrat with the best chance of unseating Christie, the popular Republican incumbent. Booker demurred, but announced last December – via a Facebook post, of course – that he was exploring a Senate run in 2014.
"Let there be no doubt," he said in the post, "I will complete my full second term as mayor." That term expires in June 2014, so if he wins the Senate seat, he would not complete it.
Booker, who grew up in suburban Harrington Park as the son of civil rights activists who were among the first black executives at IBM, went to Stanford, was a Rhodes Scholar, earned a law degree from Yale and took a job with the Urban Justice Center, which provides legal and other services to the vulnerable. He also moved to a public housing complex in Newark.
Booker's early days in politics pitted him against a lion of New Jersey politics. He was elected to the city council soon after moving to Newark and in 2002, he ran for mayor against the city's longtime leader, Sharpe James. He lost, but made a splash, and the campaign was documented in the film "Street Fight."
Four years later, he was elected mayor of the state's largest city. Under his watch, the city budget has been more stable and downtown redevelopment has picked up steam.
Booker is a liberal on most social issues – a supporter of allowing gay marriage, for instance.
But he's also in favor of expanded educational choices for families in cities, including using public money to send children to private schools. That's a cause that unites some urban liberals with conservatives and infuriates teachers unions and, often, school district officials who believe the policy would take money from public schools that need it badly. New Jersey does not have scholarship program that does that, though Christie is pushing to start one.
Booker's critics in Newark see him as an ambitious interloper who spends too much of his time outside the city.
According to a Senate campaign filing made in May, Booker has brought in $1.3 million for 90 speeches he has given around the country since 2008. His campaign says he has donated the majority of that money to charities that serve Newark.
A Star-Ledger analysis last year of Booker's social media postings found that from the start of 2011 until the middle of 2012, he was out of New Jersey or the New York City area at least 119 days.
Booker's campaign has said that the networking he does ultimately helps the city.
In 2010, he was seated next to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at a dinner during a conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. Two months later, Zuckerberg announced a $100 million donation to improve education in Newark.