By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay
With the federal government now facing indefinite shutdown and the issue of the Affordable Care Act again at the forefront of the national discussion, Tea Party Republicans, whom some believed were suffering from diminished influence, have once again found themselves wielding incredible power. Three men in particular: Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul, have demonstrated that Rightwing Republicanism is very much a factor in Washington. While some have decried obstructionism, the current situation in Congress can best be described as a stalemate, as harsh divisions exist within both the Senate and the GOP. This tense situation could get even more interesting should New Jersey’s conservatives have their way and a fourth Tea Partier, former Mayor Steve Lonegan, be sent to the Senate.
A long-time activist and one-time organizer for Americans for Prosperity, Mayor Lonegan has spent the last several months crisscrossing his home state in an attempt to rouse support for an underdog candidacy. That New Jersey hasn’t sent a Republican to the Senate in over forty years has led to intense media skepticism regarding his prospects. Though Democratic nominee Cory Booker currently leads in the polls, and even though Republicans have waged an unwaveringly conservative campaign (a rarity in such a “blue state,” where even the GOP tends to be socially moderate), the gap between the two seems to be closing.
With the nation’s eyes upon New Jersey, Mayor Lonegan has brought out the Republican Party’s big guns in an attempt to prove that, far from beyond a symbolic sacrificial lamb, his campaign is actually a viable electoral endeavor. Aside from a somewhat surprising endorsement from incumbent Governor (and one-time electoral rival) Christopher J. Christie, the Lonegan campaign has reached out to some of the Tea Party’s most famous figureheads. Last month, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul traveled to the Garden State. Earlier this week, Texas Governor Rick Perry appeared during three rallies.
“I believe in his vision for America,” Governor Perry said of Lonegan during his speech in the Jersey Shore community of Bayville. “An America that is strong again economically, strong again militarily, and expressing our…pure vision about freedom around the world. That is what the next United States Senator from New Jersey needs to be about and that is what Steve Lonegan is about!”
Governor Perry, who was warmly received by Lonegan’s supporters, seemed optimistic about, and in agreement with, the socially and fiscally conservative goals of the campaign. Despite that, the threat of the Tea Partiers isolating moderates is very real. While the candidate himself remains unapologetic about his Rightwing views, frequently labeling Cory Booker as the extremist, what impact endorsements from galvanizing figures such as Governor Perry and Senator Paul will have on the election has yet to be seen.
Until then, Mayor Lonegan has continued to voice his ultra-populist views, even going so far as to differ with Governor Christie’s position on the federal government shutdown, telling Congressional Republicans to “hold the line” until October 17th, when he hopes to be sworn in.
As the day of the Senate Special Election draws near, the already divisive race will likely only grow even more polarized. The Republicans are not the only ones bringing in national politicians to wage their statewide battles via proxy. Vice President Joe Biden is set to campaign for Cory Booker mere days before the polls open; in doing so, he has joined the legions of prominent figures who have spoken out on the Democrat’s behalf, something Lonegan and his ultra-conservative allies have presented as evidence that the Newark Mayor is out of touch.
“My opponent, Cory Booker, has spent the last two weeks traveling around California, raising money from people like Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Streisand,” Lonegan told his Bayville supporters. “I don’t want Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Streisand—I want you guys!”
The real question: will New Jersey want Lonegan?