By Bob Ingle
TRENTON — GOP Senate candidate Steve Lonegan doesn’t like most government regulations, thinking they make it hard for business to operate and grow.
He would like to see a sunset on all regs and the only ones kept be those that can be proved beneficial to the people. Lots of people can agree with that, especially those who have run afoul of New Jersey’s notoriously bureaucratic Department of Environmental Protection.
During his campaign debate with Lonegan Wednesday, Newark Mayor Cory Booker was defending his support of environmental protection regulations and noted that the Passaic River in Newark is so polluted swimming is banned.
Lonegan could have said some regulations are necessary for health reasons but when they’re overboard and unnecessary and bound with bureaucratic red tape it causes an unnecessary burden that hampers progress. But he said this instead:
“You may not be able to swim in that river, but it’s probably, I think, because of the bodies floating around from shooting victims in your city.”
“Oh my God,” Booker said. And he wasn’t alone.
My Twitter feed was filled with messages from people saying they were Republicans but they had decided to vote for Booker. Lonegan has long said a true conservative running on conservative issues can win statewide in Democratic-leaning New Jersey. That may be true, but Lonegan won’t be the man to prove it because he can’t control himself — or as he put it in an interview, he needs a filter.
You have to ask if the people in his campaign don’t need one. too. That gene that keeps us from blurting out the first thing that comes to mind in a given situation seems to be missing in the people around him. Before the August primary, Lonegan’s campaign posted online names of South American, Middle Eastern and African countries over a map of Newark, saying they were “Cory Booker’s foreign policy debate prep.”
In defending his request for special state aid when he was mayor of Bogota, Lonegan said small towns and rural areas get shortchanged because state income and sales taxes go to the cities. “All that income and sales tax money gets poured into a big black hole in Newark.”
Booker is black and Newark has a large minority population. Right away there were accusations that Lonegan was being racist, which he denied. In this instance he can make a case that often people refer to black holes in reference to those regions in space from which gravity prevents anything, even light, from escaping. Things go there and never are seen again.
How much harder would it have been for Lonegan to get the point across with: “Cities get most of the tax money from Trenton, it goes there and is never seen again”?
His tendency to say things that make people cringe is being used against him by Booker, whose theme is Lonegan is too extreme to represent New Jersey in Washington and that he would be a Tea Party member in Washington gumming up the works, refusing to compromise.
Booker goes into Wednesday’s election with a double-digit lead, although not as much of a lead as had been predicted when the campaign started. Lonegan has picked up steam against Booker, talking about crime in Newark, Booker’s travels and opposing just about everything the Obama administration stands for.
New Jersey hasn’t elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 41 years. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a wide margin. The big unknown in this election, which is to serve out the unfinished term of the late Frank Lautenberg, is turnout. New Jerseyans aren’t accustomed to elections in the middle of October when there is another big one — for governor — less than three weeks away. Also, this election is on a Wednesday.
An extremely low turnout could be in Lonegan’s favor because while there are fewer conservatives, they tend to be more motivated and likely to show up at the polls. In urban areas, such as Newark, turnout tends to be low.