Cory Booker’s Lautenberg challenge

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Spencer Platt/Getty Images News

Spencer Platt/Getty Images News

New Jersey’s Sen. Frank Lautenberg is so far strongly resisting any suggestion that he should step aside and allow fellow Democrat and Newark mayor Cory Booker to replace him in the U.S Senate, repeatedly blasting Booker in public and refusing to say if he will retire, even though the mayor has already formally started a campaign for the incumbent’s seat.

“He’s got a lot of work to do — a lot of work that should have been done and hasn’t been done,” Lautenberg told National Journal this week. He described Newark as a “city in desperate need of attention” and suggested “things would be different” if Booker spent more time managing the city.

Those comments came after earlier this month, the 89-year-old senator compared the mayor to one of his children and suggested Booker deserved a “spanking” for starting to campaign for the Senate before Lautenberg decides if he wants to run next year for reelection.

The criticism by Lautenberg highlights the challenges for Booker as he seeks to turn the fanfare he has earned from his leadership of one of America’s poorest urban areas into a successful run for a higher political office.

Long considered a charismatic politician who could eventually hold statewide office or even be elected president, Booker has not found an easy route to advance beyond the mayor’s office.

He opted against running for governor this year, bowing to the strong popular support of the incumbent, Republican Chris Christie, instead choosing to run for Lautenberg’s seat in 2014.

But Lautenberg has not stepped aside and anointed Booker as his successor. Instead, the veteran senator is attacking Booker on his biggest vulnerability, the perception even among some Democrats that the mayor is not fully engaged in governing and more focused on media appearances and his own personal brand.