Newark Mayor Cory Booker answers questions after voting in New Jersey's… (Mel Evans / Associated Press )
WASHINGTON — New Jersey Democrats chose Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a rising party star, as their candidate in Tuesday’s special primary election to fill a U.S. Senate seat this fall.
Booker has drawn national attention for his efforts to improve “Brick City” and his embrace of Twitter as a form of civic engagement. He is favored to replace Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died in June at 89.
Steven M. Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota, N.J., won the Republican party’s nomination, fending off newcomer Alieta Eck, a doctor who was gaining tea party enthusiasm in the final days.
Because Democrats outnumber Republicans in the Garden State, the October general election is expected to remain an uphill climb for the GOP, despite the popularity of Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
“It is safe to say that winning the Democratic primary on Aug. 13 is the entire game," wrote Jennifer Duffy, a senior analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, in an early assessment.
Booker, 44, voted early Tuesday morning and then campaigned on Twitter, where he has become well-known among his 1.4 million followers for personally answering their tweets.
He has won high-profile support from politicians, CEOs and celebrities. California’s Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted his backing on Tuesday, and actress Eva Longoria campaigned with Booker on Monday.
In all, four Democrats and two Republicans were vying for the nominations from their parties.
Christie had tapped Republican Jeffrey Chiesa, the former attorney general, to fill the Senate seat that became vacant with Lautenberg’s death. Chiesa did not run in the special election.
Challenging Booker in the Democratic primary, Frank Pallone Jr., a 13-term congressman from Long Branch, and Rush D. Holt, an 8-term congressman from Hopewell Township, were favored to win in their districts. State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver from Newark was also in the race.
On the Republican side, Eck, who operates a Christian-aligned free clinic for the poor in Somerset, has drawn attention for her criticism of President Obama’s healthcare law.
Turnout in special elections is typically low, but Eck appeared to have drawn new interest from tea party voters, Duffy said.
Lonegan won late support Monday from conservative radio commentator Mark Levin. Lonegan is a former businessman who became known as a fiscally conservative mayor in Bogota. Elected in 1996, he twice won reelection.
After leaving the mayor’s office, Lonegan became the state director of Americans for Prosperity, a free-market advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. He campaigned as someone who “dedicated his life to defending the rights of taxpayers and individual liberties.”
Booker, who graduated from Stanford University and Yale Law School, returned to the state where he grew up and lived for several years in a Newark public housing complex to connect with residents. He won a seat on the City Council at 29 and was elected mayor on his second attempt in 2006, ousting a veteran incumbent.
Earlier Tuesday, Booker tweeted notes of thanks to individual voters, and when one Twitter message proposed marriage, Booker responded: “Can I counter your proposal with my own: Will u vote for me?”
[Updated, 5:59 p.m. Aug. 13: This post has been updated to reflect the primary winners, Booker and Lonegan.]