Ordered Liberty

In New Jersey Senate Race, Lonegan Fights the Odds ... without Help from the GOP

The Republican Party is fielding a phenomenal candidate in New Jersey … no thanks to the Republican Party.

I’m among the Garden State denizens who started his day by proudly casting a vote for Steve Lonegan in the special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat of the late Frank Lautenberg. Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota, N.J., is a principled conservative who – mirabile dictu! – is running as a principled conservative in the contest against Obama clone Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark. The clear-cut, bold colors campaign he’s waged has Lonegan within striking distance despite huge odds and virtually no help from the GOP establishment.

The fact that we’re having a costly special election on a Wednesday in the middle of October is a good indicator of official Republican apathy – to put it mildly – for a Reaganesque champion of limited government who harbors the crazy notion that the idea is to defeat the Left, not partner with it. There is, quite obviously, no valid economic or good-government reason to hold the special election today rather than on Election Day, which is just three weeks from now.

So why are we doing it? Because New Jersey is home to GOP establishment hero Chris Christie – although, to judge by his own campaign ads, Gov. Christie’s affiliation seems to be “bipartisan,” with the R-word nowhere in evidence. Up for reelection in November, Christie’s eye is squarely fixed on the next prize, the GOP presidential sweepstakes. It is not enough, he calculates, merely to beat his non-competitive Democratic challenger, state Sen. Barbara Buono. He needs to annihilate her. Buono had no chance: The polls, which have never tightened, typically show Christie 24 points ahead. But Christie fretted that this blue state’s union-driven machine would churn in overdrive if Booker, a well-known progressive darling, was on the ballot the same day as he. Scheduling the special election was Christie’s call, so – surprise! – he exercised his discretion to serve himself, needlessly causing the state to hold two elections so his expected blowout victory margin would not be trimmed by Booker’s turn-out.

Christie may mention the R-word much but GOP strategists insist that he is, nonetheless, the most popular, most electable Republican in the country. Thus the selfish scheduling decision also denied Lonegan any coattails Christie may have. No surprise that the governor would tee things up for Booker this way: The same remorseless bipartisan branding that fueled Christie’s Super-Storm Sandy love-in with President Obama days before the 2012 election has also inspired him to be very public about his snuggly relationship with Booker. More to the point, there is no love lost between Christie and Lonegan, who not only is an unapologetic conservative but also ran as one in unsuccessfully challenging the GOP’s preferred Mr. Bipartisan for the gubernatorial nomination four years ago.

Fearful of antagonizing – I should say, further antagonizing – the conservative base that promises to be very active in the GOP presidential primaries, Christie recently swallowed hard and endorsed Lonegan. Since then, though, he’s gone back to his default position of ignoring his former nemesis – which is admittedly better than when he actively helps Democrats slam Lonegan for “inflammatory and inappropriate” campaigning. (That was Christie’s pile-on description of a Lonegan staffer’s tweet – a stupid attempt to poke fun at Booker’s description of Newark as “like the Middle East.” Though Lonegan ordered the tweet deleted as soon as he learned of it, Democrats have used it to smear him as – all together now – a racist).

While Christie takes pains to reaffirm his admiration for Booker, Lonegan has exposed his Democratic rival as a corrupt, self-dealing dissembler on whose watch Newark’s crime, unemployment and general deterioration have worsened. (See James Stimpson’s campaign column at the American Thinker, describing how the unsavory Booker has managed to embarrass even reliable Lefties.) Lonegan, by contrast, is a self-made American success story.

Born into modest means but a strong work ethic, Lonegan was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at 14. He rejected the prospect of a life on disability subsidies, overcame the loss of much of his eyesight, built a kitchen-cabinet business from nothing into a thriving metro-area concern, earned an MBA from Farleigh Dickinson University, and entered politics. A plainspoken conservative Republican, he was elected three times – twice by double-digits – as mayor of Bogota, a Democrat stronghold. A Tea Party favorite, Lonegan has become a renowned champion of limited government and debt-slashing, particularly as the director of Americans for Prosperity’s New Jersey chapter.

The Republican establishment, long resigned to Booker’s triumphant arrival on Capitol Hill, has followed Christie’s lead in leaving the party’s candidate to fend for himself. The National Republican Senatorial Committee – the GOP’s fundraising arm for Senate campaigns – has given Lonegan no help, while Booker (helped by national Democrats, Oprah, Mark Zuckerberg, Steven Spielberg, Ben Affleck, et al.) has outraised him at an 8-to-1 clip. Yet, Lonegan has run a spirited, highly effective campaign, fueled by the Tea Party and such conservative stars as Mark Levin, Sarah Palin and Rick Perry. He easily bested Booker in the sparsely watched debates and has cut deeply into the Democrat’s once seemingly insurmountable lead.

Can he win? The latest polls, while tighter, still show Booker ahead. The battle is uphill, and Lonegan has had to fight it without assistance from his own party. But the election occurs amid the embarrassing rollout of Obamacare, sticker-shock over which has enraged the union voters desperately needed by Democrats in an irregular election that will be all about turn-out. The Tea Party may be outnumbered in Jersey, but it is energized. And for all his life, people have been telling Steve Lonegan what he can’t do … while he keeps proving them wrong.