Saturday October 19, 2013
Nothing about the U.S. Senate race between Cory Booker and Steve Lonegan was normal, from the hastily arranged special election held on the third Wednesday in October to the fact that its final weeks played out against the backdrop of a disruptive and divisive federal government shutdown.
A review of the voting patterns that produced an 11-point victory for Booker, the Democratic mayor of Newark, is similarly unusual, with a historically low turnout of around 24 percent of registered voters and, as one pollster put it, “shockingly low” participation in some of the most reliably Democratic counties and municipalities. Meanwhile, Lonegan, a former Bogota mayor turned Tea Party activist, was able to get a bigger turnout in less populated, Republican-leaning parts of the state.
Those trends were similarly in evidence in Bergen and Passaic counties, which Booker carried by 14 and 19 points, respectively.
The election was so odd that several pollsters said they would ignore it when developing future forecasting models. Political scientists say it will have little bearing on future elections, starting with the gubernatorial contest in two weeks between Governor Christie, a Republican, and Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono.
“I don’t see a race like this happening ever again,” said Dan Cassino, a political science professor and pollster at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “It was a just weird, weird election.”
Booker won 55 percent of the vote to Lonegan’s 44 percent, a victory that would be considered commanding in almost any other race. But it was somewhat of a disappointment for Booker, who was a 30-point favorite coming out of the special August primary and faced an opponent in Lonegan who was far to the right of New Jersey’s moderate Republican establishment.
“Lonegan was so far out of the mainstream it’s amazing he got the vote he got,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “It tells you a lot about how poor the Booker campaign was run.”
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