October 12, 2013
NEW EGYPT, N.J. — With polls suggesting a tightening race and only a few days remaining in the United States Senate contest in New Jersey, thousands of people gathered at a racetrack here to watch Sarah Palin endorse the Republican candidate, Steve Lonegan.
“Something big is happening here; it’s called momentum,” said Ms. Palin, the former Alaska governor who was John McCain’s running mate during the 2008 presidential election. “The country knows it, the media knows it.”
Recent polls have shown Mr. Lonegan, a former mayor of Bogota, N.J., and a businessman, gaining ground on his nationally known Democratic rival, Mayor Cory A. Booker of Newark. The election is on Wednesday.
The surge has surprised many who thought the special election to fill the seat that became vacant upon the death this year of Senator Frank R. Lautenburg, a veteran Democrat, would be a landslide victory for Mr. Booker.
While Mr. Booker maintains a 12-point lead in the polls, Mr. Lonegan has gained traction in part by framing the election as a referendum on Mr. Booker’s celebrity.
“My opponent, Cory Booker, was anointed by Hollywood; he was anointed by Oprah,” Mr. Lonegan said. “California doesn’t need a third senator.”
More than 2,000 supporters of Mr. Lonegan’s crammed beside a dirt racetrack in front of a bus emblazoned with “Tea Party Express.” Many hoisted yellow flags that said “Don’t Tread on Me.” Most raised iPhones to snap photos of Ms. Palin.
Denise Williams, a retired teacher from Forked River, said she came to the rally because she believed Mr. Lonegan would help thwart the president’s agenda.
“I want him to go into the Senate and I want him to vote against everything that the liberal, socialist White House is for,” Ms. Williams, 64, said. “I want my grandkids to grow up in America.”
While the federal government staggered into another week of shutdown, Mr. Lonegan urged his supporters to back Republicans who refuse to compromise on their budget demands.
“Tell the Republicans in Washington, D.C., to hold the line,” Mr. Lonegan said before leading the crowd in a chant of “Hold the line! Hold the line!”
Ms. Palin also praised the House Republicans, who insist that parts of the Affordable Care Act be delayed before some government programs reopen.
“They’re calling it the ‘government shutdown.’ I think it should be called a ‘slimdown,’ ” Ms. Palin said. She then criticized the suspension of federal aid for the families of fallen soldiers, the shuttering of an Amber Alert Web site and the closing of war memorials.
“But Michelle Obama’s really groovy ‘Let’s Move’ video is still up and running because you can’t be chubby,” Ms. Palin said. She also rejected the notion that people should accept the Affordable Care Act because it was passed by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court.
“They said that about Prohibition,” Ms. Palin said. “But I believe now you can get a beer with your famous New Jersey pizza.”
The racetrack is in a rural swath of Ocean County lined with fields, a few golf courses and a Smokey Bear sign. Signs advertised for sale pumpkins, produce and pine trees.
Mike Betancourt, a retired teacher from Whiting, N.J., said he was motivated to drive to the rally because of Mr. Lonegan’s momentum. “He’s doing better lately,” Mr. Betancourt, 67, said. “It made me want to come out.”
Diana McKnight, 55, from Forked River, brought her husband to see Mr. Lonegan. “It started out he didn’t have a chance,” she said. “The gap is getting smaller, I feel wonderful.”
Even Mr. Lonegan seemed giddy. He mentioned Mr. Booker’s campaign and Twitter messages to an Oregon stripper, and made a play on words to reference his own momentum.
“My opponent would rather tweet about pole dancers,” he said, “than poll numbers.”