New Jersey voters went to the polls on Tuesday and decisively chose Cory Booker and Steve Lonegan as the respective Democratic and Republican primary winners, setting up the two for a face-off in the October special election to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Senator Frank Lautenberg. Newark Mayor Cory Booker has become a household name across the country, invigorating his base with his impressive Twitter presence and the endorsements of celebrities such as Eva Longoria, Oprah Winfrey, and Steven Spielberg. Lonegan, on the other hand, is widely unknown outside of Bogota, New Jersey (population 8,187), where he previously served as mayor. Although he stands virtually no chance of winning the Senate election, Lonegan's radically conservative values and his party's choice to nominate him bear looking into.
Lonegan is best known as the former New Jersey head of the political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, led and funded by the oil billionaires Charles and David Koch. The tax-exempt organization has come under fire recently for a bevy of issues, including its support for Big Tobacco and its misleading ads targeting Obamacare, and the candidacy of one of its major players is certainly worthy of notice. However, Lonegan's record on the major issues affecting Americans is far more worrying than his involvement with the Koch organization.
On immigration, Lonegan takes a particularly harsh line. He staunchly opposes immigration reform, calling the Senate bill "pure and simple amnesty for illegal aliens" and disparaging former Governor Corzine's proposal for a state DREAM act as "chock-full of left-wing nonsense." More controversially, Lonegan led unsuccessful measures to declare English as the official language of Bogota and garnered statewide attention by calling for a boycott against McDonalds after the company ran a Spanish-language ad for iced coffee. His stance on immigration is not only extreme but also hypocritical — Lonegan ran into trouble in 2007 when police discovered two undocumented workers at his home.
But the issue that may earn him the most ire from New Jersey voters is on climate change. After Hurricane Sandy left the state with hundreds of thousands of homes damaged, dozens dead, and economic losses totaling $30 billion, Lonegan's vehement denial of climate change seems startlingly out of touch. Lonegan recently remarked that "whether New Jersey is being affected [by climate change] is highly suspect," and earlier in the race slammed a fellow candidate's ad on global warming as "silly hysteria." Since nearly 75% of New Jersey residents report being concerned about climate change, Lonegan's rhetoric is unlikely to be received well.
New Jersey has not elected a Republican senator in the last 41 years, and it is unlikely to do so this year. Although Lonegan's name will soon fade from headlines, his candidacy should be noted as yet another sign of the political tone-deafness of the GOP establishment. Given its notorious disconnect with women, minorities, and the LGBT community, the choice of the arch-conservative Lonegan to represent the Republican Party in New Jersey reinforces the sense that the party of the right is out of touch. The Republicans may find their champion in fellow New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, but as long as they keep putting their weight behind candidates like Lonegan, the party has a long way to go.