A Booker aide confirmed to the Star-Ledger that Booker is circulating the petitions to obtain the 1,000 signatures needed to get on the August ballot. Booker had already been exploring a 2014 bid for the U.S. Senate, a time table sped up by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) on Monday. Lautenberg had been planning to retire next year. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) called the Aug. 13 primary and Oct. 16 special election to fill the remainder of Lautenberg's term. Petitions are due to the state Division of Elections by 4 p.m. on Monday, June 10.
Booker is one of three Democrats looking to enter the August primary, along with Rep. Frank Pallone and Rep. Rush Holt, who have not formally entered the race. On the Republican side, former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, the state director for Americans for Prosperity, is the only candidate in the race, with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield) and state Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-Middletown) all mentioned as potential candidates.
Booker launched an exploratory committee earlier this year after announcing that he would not challenge Christie for the governorship, though he made the announcement before Lautenberg said he would retire. In May, Booker told The Huffington Post that his 2013 focus was on Newark and helping Democrats in this year's election.
The timing of the special election would keep Booker, if nominated, off the November general election ballot, where Christie is facing Democratic gubernatorial nominee Barbara Buono. While Christie is leading Buono by 30 points in recent polls, Booker appearing on the same ballot could swing voters to support either Buono or Democratic state legislative candidates, potentially hurting Christie's goal of gaining GOP control of the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
Since Booker announced his exploratory committee he has increased his schedule of campaigning for Democratic hopefuls around the state. He has also campaigned alongside Buono, lending his star power to her uphill campaign.
On the Republican side, state Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) announced Thursday morning that he would not seek the U.S. Senate seat. Bramnick, a trial attorney who has been a vocal Snooki opponent, told New Jersey 101.5 radio that he wanted to continue to focus on the GOP state legislative races.
Lonegan, a tea party favorite, is the only announced Republican candidate and has picked up support from conservative Republican state legislators. Lonegan is not close to Christie or the state GOP establishment. He lost 2005 and 2009 GOP primaries for governor.
Christie has not announced who he will appoint to fill the seat until October. PolitickerNJ.com reported Wednesday evening that former state Attorney General David Samson, the current Port Authority of New York and New Jersey chairman, is a potential Christie pick. Samson, who chaired Christie's 2009 transition team, held the state's top law enforcement post under former Gov. Jim McGreevey (D). Former Gov. Tom Kean Sr. (R) is also considered a potential Christie appointee.