Cory Booker’s long-awaited move to the national stage has just gotten a bit harder.
In the wake of the death of longtime New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced on Tuesday his state will hold a special election in October to tap a new senator, with each party holding primaries to pick their candidates in August.
Now, Booker will have to run in two elections instead of one: this October’s contest and then another one next year for the full six-year term. But more importantly, in a blue state where the winner of the Democratic primary will be a heavy favorite to be elected both in October 2013 and November 2014, Booker could be forced into an intense intra-party contest.
Why? Because New Jersey Democrats who serve in the U.S. House of Representatives now have a chance to run in the August primary without risking their House seats, giving them a free opportunity to challenge Booker and potentially win a promotion. If they lose in the Senate primary, they can just run again for reelection to the House next year.
Booker has much more national acclaim than others in his party, but Representatives Rush Holt and Frank Pallone, both Democrats, are longtime members of Congress from New Jersey and have hinted they would like to replace Lautenberg.
The Newark mayor remains the favorite, but he could now face stronger competitors in a very short election campaign (about three months) in which a minor gaffe could severely complicate his candidacy. And the Republican candidate for the Senate this year will be able to link himself closely to the popular Christie, who will stand for reelection in November.
In effect, Booker has gone from being in two contests (next year’s primary and general election) where he was heavily favored to three races, at least two of which could be close.
If the 44-year-old wins, he would be the first African-American elected to the Senate since Barack Obama in 2004.