Decision day in accelerated New Jersey US Senate race

TRENTON, New Jersey (AP) — Cory Booker, the high-profile Democratic mayor of New Jersey's largest city, was on the ballot Wednesday for a Senate seat vacated when a Democrat died earlier this year...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

TRENTON, New Jersey (AP) — Cory Booker, the high-profile Democratic mayor of New Jersey’s largest city, was on the ballot Wednesday for a Senate seat vacated when a Democrat died earlier this year. A win would make him just the second African-American in the Senate.

Public opinion polls showed Booker, 44, with a double-digit advantage heading into the election. Booker, who has tried to turn around the long-struggling city of Newark, has long been touted as a member of a new generation of black politicians who could win statewide elections, including Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Barack Obama, who left the Senate to become president. Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina is now the only black member of the U.S. Senate.

The two-month campaign in New Jersey between Booker and Republican Steve Lonegan ends amid the fiscal fight that has gripped Washington, underscoring the different approaches each would take as a senator. The race also touched upon Booker’s tweets with a stripper and a Republican political strategist’s profanity-laced rant.

Booker circulated a petition to end the shutdown and accused Congress of failing voters by not finding a way to work together.

Lonegan supports the federal shutdown, arguing Obama’s health care overhaul law should be delayed a year and objecting to the concept of government-directed health insurance. The partial shutdown began Oct. 1 when Republicans in Congress refused to pass an emergency spending measure unless Obama agreed to gut his health care law.

The New Jersey campaign has played out under a compressed schedule for the seat held by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a liberal Democrat, until his death in June.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie appointed a Republican caretaker and ordered the election held Oct. 16, the soonest date the law allowed following an unprecedented August primary.

Critics accused the popular governor of keeping the race off the Nov. 5 ballot, when he is up for re-election, to make it easier for him to win big as a Republican in a Democratic-leaning state and aid his potential presidential ambitions. During his first debate, he refused to rule out a run for president in 2016.

Lonegan, 57, the former state director of Americans for Prosperity, a group advocating limited government that was founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, ran an aggressive, in-your-face campaign.

“We want a leader, not a tweeter,” he said at one point, referring to the mayor’s prolific use of Twitter, where he has 1.4 million followers.

Both candidates drew on some big names for support — Oprah Winfrey helped raise funds for Booker, while the nation’s largest tea party political action committee brought former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in to campaign for the Republican nominee.

The campaign took odd twists and turns for both candidates.

Booker was forced off-message to explain friendly correspondence with a stripper he met while filming a social media documentary. Lonegan was forced to dump a longtime strategist after a lengthy, profanity-laced interview with a political web site in which he claimed Booker’s banter with the stripper “was like what a gay guy would say.”

While in Newark, Booker has worked with Christie on common education goals, such as ending lifetime tenure for teachers. Newark schools remain under state control.

Lonegan repeatedly knocked Booker for the city’s high crime rate and unemployment. At one point in the campaign, Booker announced a new crime-fighting strategy to cope with a string of 10 homicides in 10 days.

Booker painted him as a tea party extremist, one who would — if sent to Washington — make worsen Washington’s gridlock.

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