Cory Booker Opponent Steve Lonegan Stumps with Rand Paul
(WASHINGTON) -- Senate candidate Steve Lonegan calls himself “a regular New Jersey guy” who “worked with a bunch of hard working guys who curse and drink beer.” But as he faces off against Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, the Democrat with the national profile and celebrity ties, he is also negotiating the tricky waters of the Republican Party, with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul on one hand and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on the other.
Lonegan, who says the election will be “a referendum on Obama,” hit the stump with Paul by his side Friday. Fundraising with Christie, he said, will come Thursday.
“I think Steve Lonegan can be the answer to how we grow the Republican Party,” Paul said at the rally in Clark, N.J. “Republicans can win in New Jersey the same way Republicans can win in a presidential election, if we become a bigger party...black, white, brown. We need a party that looks like the rest of America and we can be that party.”
The rally followed a champagne brunch fundraiser where donors could also get a photo with Paul and Lonegan.
Lonegan told the crowd, according to video of the event: “Cory Booker is the Hollywood stand-in in this election for Barack Obama.”
ABC News spoke with Lonegan, the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, before the event. A former mayor of Bogota, N.J. and a conservative activist, Lonegan says the rally Friday was about “uniting all parts of the party.”
Paul and Christie, both potential Republican presidential contenders for 2016, have engaged in a war of words since last month, criticizing each other’s stances on issues ranging from national security to Hurricane Sandy relief funding. Paul offered to bury the hatchet over a beer, but Christie said he was too busy, citing his gubernatorial re-election campaign.
Christie said he was also too busy to appear at Friday’s event because he had plans to celebrate his wife’s 50th birthday, “just the two of us,” in Florida.
“I had to choose -- it was a very tough choice...but I had to choose between my wife and Rand Paul,” Christie said at a press conference. “And in a choice between Mary Pat Christie and Rand Paul, it’s no choice for me.”
But on Thursday, a massive fire broke out on the Jersey shore, devastating an area re-built after Superstorm Sandy, and instead of a Florida getaway, Christie spent the weekend on the Jersey shore.
Although Christie endorsed and campaigned with Lonegan last month, they were rivals when they faced off for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2009. Christie won and went on to beat Gov. Jon Corzine. Despite the endorsement, Christie has had a past warm relationship with Booker.
This time around, Lonegan said Christie is “out there 100 percent, so it’s all really good.”
“I’m sure the governor is open to dialogue and to unifying the party,” Lonegan said.
So, what does Lonegan think of the Christie-Paul squabble? He doesn’t see it as a “feud at all.”
“I think the governor is as concerned about civil liberties as is Rand Paul. It’s just how you get there and what the level of security that is needed,” Lonegan said. “I anticipate that ultimately the governor comes down on the side of civil liberties with us.”
“I think there are far more important issues to the public,” he added. “While this is entertaining, it’s not critical.”
The most recent poll from Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics this month showed Booker leading by 35 points, 64 percent to 29 percent.
Lonegan discredited the poll in the ABC interview, but did acknowledge Booker “has the lead,” saying it is because “he is Mr. Name I.D., he’s been anointed by Hollywood, he had Oprah Winfrey in here, he’s got all this Hollywood money. But this election is not a popularity contest, it is about the issues and as soon as it becomes about the issues, I win.”
Those issues are opposition to military intervention in Syria, domestic spying and the National Security Agency, and especially the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“October 16th becomes a referendum on the Obama agenda in New Jersey,” Lonegan said of the date of the general election. “It’s not just an election of Steve Lonegan vs. Cory Booker. It’s very much a referendum on Obama and the country understands that. That’s why we have money coming in, people coming in, the polls are going to change over time, we know that.”
As for Syria, he said the “president’s leadership has failed and it’s sad for our country when the Russians step up and solve our foreign affairs problems.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio