Newark Mayor Cory Booker has said he has been agonizing for weeks about whether to run for Senate or governor.
But in reality, today he made the obvious, safe choice that most preserves his options for the future, including a potential White House run: forgoing a race next year against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Facing Christie was a high-risk, high-reward proposition: a victory would strengthened Booker’s standing among Democratic activists in his state and nationally, many of whom strongly dislike the confrontational, blunt style of Christie.
But Booker is already popular among Democrats, and a defeat to Christie could have crippled his political career. And defeat was a definite possibility.
Christie is a popular governor who polls show is well-liked by even some Democrats in the state, and Booker has faced complaints from people in his own party about not being attentive enough to day-to-day management as mayor, an issue that no doubt would have emerged in a campaign to run an entire state.
Frank Lautenberg, the 88-year-old Democrat who holds the Senate seat Booker says he will “explore the possibility of running for” in 2014, has not yet said he wants to retire. But party officials in the state are likely to urge Lautenberg to step aside for Booker, and the 43-year-old Newark mayor could defeat the incumbent in a primary.
In fact, the Senate may be the ideal place for Booker, who is known for his charisma and media savvy as much as his governing.
He would be the only black Democrat in the Senate, a huge megaphone that allow Booker to bring attention to effectively what he issue he chose to.
And if Booker wants to eventually consider a presidential run, that path is obvious as well: Barack Obama went from senator to the Oval Office in just four years.
If Booker runs for the Senate, he and South Carolina’s Tim Scott, who was appointed to serve out the last two years of Sen. Jim DeMint’s tenure, would be the most viable black U.S. Senate candidates since Obama won in Illinois in 2004. If both won, they would be the first two black senators ever to serve together.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr