By Victoria Cavaliere
NEWARK, N.J., Oct 16 (Reuters) - Democrat Cory Booker, thecharismatic mayor of Newark, was the unofficial winner of a NewJersey special election on Wednesday, handily defeating aconservative Republican to fill the state's vacant U.S. Senateseat.
Booker, who had been heavily favored in polls, defeatedconservative Republican Steve Lonegan, a former small-townmayor, according to tallies published online by The New YorkTimes, Politico and the Star-Ledger newspaper.
The tallies showed Booker with an 11 point lead over Loneganwith more than 90 percent of the votes counted.
Booker, 44, spoke to cheering supporters in Newark where hethanked them for turning out to vote against the backdrop of the16-day government shutdown and partisan battling in Washington.
"It would have been easy to listen to this frustratingnegativity and stay home today. But here in New Jersey, morethan a million people rejected cynicism and came out on aWednesday, in the middle of October, three weeks before we haveanother election, to fight the cynicism," he said.
"You didn't just vote, you believed that your vote andchoice mattered," he said.
Booker becomes the first black U.S. senator from New Jersey.In Washington, Booker will join Republican Tim Scott of SouthCarolina as the nation's only two black senators.
He will fill the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat FrankLautenberg, who died in June at age 89.
Booker, a Rhodes scholar and Yale Law School graduate,rocketed to fame as a booster for the state's largest city, 12miles (19 km) from Manhattan, which has struggled with povertyand persistently high crime.
His first run for mayor was documented in theOscar-nominated film "Street Fight." Booker is known to rubshoulders with celebrities and is a near-constant presence onTwitter.
During Booker's tenure as mayor, Newark received a $100million gift to its schools from Facebook founder MarkZuckerberg, who said he had met Booker and was impressed by hisplans.
Lonegan is the former mayor of Bogota and former statedirector of Americans for Prosperity, a political advocacy groupfunded by the conservative Koch brothers.
He has said he opposed federal aid to victims of SuperstormSandy and more recently voiced support for the Republican Housemembers who forced the government shutdown.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican seekingre-election and a possible White House contender in 2016, choseOct. 16 as the special election date.
Democrats said he could have scheduled the special electionfor Nov. 5, the day of the general election, and accused him ofself-interest and wasteful spending.
They said he was avoiding being on the same ballot asBooker, who could attract Democratic and minority turnout andcut into Christie's chances of winning re-election by a largemargin.
Christie, who said politics did not play a role in thedecision, said he wanted to let New Jersey voters have apermanent voice in the Senate as soon as possible.
- Politics & Government
- Cory Booker
- New Jersey