Voters Forced to Choose between Lesser of Two Evils in NJ Senate Race

New Jersey’s special Senate election, one of the most controversial and high profile races in the country, is now nearing its much-anticipated conclusion. In less than 24 hours, Garden State voters will be asked to choose between two very distinct, extremely polarizing candidates—Democratic Mayor Cory Booker and Republican Mayor Steve Lonegan—politicians who couldn’t be farther apart in regards to their views on social issues and fiscal policy.

What was once dismissed as a throwaway campaign, a near-guaranteed victory for the Democratic Party, has become hotly contested, even though the vast majority of voters likely have little in common with either of the candidates. While the majority of the public falls somewhere in the center of the ideological spectrum, the two candidates are on completely opposite ends, meaning turnout will likely be incredibly low and those that do show up to the polls will be forced to determine whom they perceive as the lesser of two evils.

Mayor Lonegan, who has spent a large portion of his candidacy alongside polarizing tea party figureheads (including Sarah Palin, Rick Perry and Rand Paul), fired a long-time campaign manager and political ally for making offensive and arguably homophobic statements to the press. The political opposition has also highlighted his previous statements regarding social security, the government shutdown, and issues like abortion as evidence he is too extreme to send to Washington.

Turnout will likely be incredibly low and those that do show up to the polls will be forced to determine whom they perceive as the lesser of two evils.
Dennis Mikolay

When it comes to New Jersey’s Senate races, the GOP typically runs candidates that are center-right with moderate social views, as was the case with Dick Zimmer in 2008 and Joe Kyrillos four years later. The decision to field Mayor Lonegan, a former spokesperson for Americans for Prosperity, who presented himself as a conservative alternative to Chris Christie during the 2009 gubernatorial primary, marked the first time in recent memory that a true “right-winger” was selected as the Republican torchbearer.

This is likely due in large part to the decision to hold the special election in October as opposed to November: the extremely limited window during which candidates were allowed to petition for a place in the primaries assured that only those with sizable resources and a strong volunteer base would be able to qualify.

Originally dismissed as a sacrificial lamb, Mayor Lonegan has somehow turned this this into a competitive race, likely because Cory Booker is also a polarizing figure.

Indeed, Newark’s most famous figure announced his intention to seek Frank Lautenberg’s seat even before the Senator’s death; Cory Booker later defeated several well-known opponents, including a Congressman endorsed by the Lautenberg family, during the primary. Of course, the Democratic candidate has also come under fire, though in his case it is for strong ties to Wall Street and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Some have argued that Mayor Booker, viewed as the candidate of big business, has spent too much time building a profile abroad, mingling with celebrities and the ultra-wealthy while neglecting his own city.

Whatever the case, one of these two men will be elected to the United States Senate on Wednesday. That they fail to reflect the views of the bulk of the constituency seems almost irrelevant at this point; the fact that they are both so extreme and so different has caused New Jersey voters to choose sides or drop out of the process altogether.