By GAIL COLLINS
New York Times News Service
Our question for today is: What does next Wednesday’s Senate election in New Jersey mean to those of us who don’t live in New Jersey?
Second question: Why is New Jersey electing a U.S. senator on a Wednesday in the middle of October anyway? Why can’t everything be at the same time? Because Gov. Chris Christie says he does not want to “cause unnecessary voter confusion,” that’s why. Christie is up for re-election Nov. 5, and you do not want writers scratching their heads about whose name to put at the top of the story. So the state will spend $12 million to provide the crystal clarity of a special Senate election Oct. 16.
People, do you think Christie used to be one of those kids who refused to share? When other children came over, do you think he put all his toys in one big pile and sat on it? I once had a friend like that, but I don’t think she grew up to be in charge of a state.
OK, enough making fun of Christie.
About the Senate election: This is to fill the seat of the late Frank Lautenberg. It pits Cory Booker, the Democratic mayor of Newark, against Steve Lonegan, who was once the Republican mayor of a suburb of about 8,000 people, which despite his heroic efforts, never did vote to make English its official language.
Lonegan says that if he wins, President Barack Obama will instantly “fold” on health care reform. Actually if Lonegan wins, Obama will probably faint. Along with a lot of other people, including every Republican senator who has not been yearning for a new friend who’s even crazier than Ted Cruz.
New Jersey has not elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate in more than 40 years. Of course that doesn’t mean New Jersey can’t. Occasionally, voters will get irked and pick a senator from the minority party, the way they did in Massachusetts when the voters chose Scott Brown, a Republican, in 2010.
This is not exactly the same situation. For one thing, the Democrat in Massachusetts, Martha Coakley, ran a dreadful campaign in which she famously sniffed at the idea of standing outside in the cold shaking voters’ hands.
Booker totally loves to shake voters’ hands in the cold. Or shovel voters’ sidewalks in the cold. Or if voters run out of heating oil, he will run downtown and bring them back a tankful. Even if he has to carry the tank on his back. Without gloves on. Voter interaction is not a Cory Booker problem.
Also, you’ll remember that Brown campaigned as a likable, middle-of-the-road kind of guy. Lonegan, on the other hand, is the candidate who said: “I don’t care about working together and all that nonsense. What the hell does that mean?” Also the one who opposed federal aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy by suggesting New Jersey just “suck it up.”
Booker, on the other hand, is perfectly suited to be a 21st-century U.S. senator. Richard Baker, the former Senate historian, says that, in the old days, Robert Byrd used to warn all the incoming senators, “Your attention is going to be fragmented beyond belief.”
Booker will arrive pre-fragmented. The man has 1.4 million followers on Twitter, and he seems to have set a life goal of interacting with all of them.
Booker has a double-digit lead according to all the polls, although his double digits used to be larger than they are now. There seems to be an enormous gender gap, with Lonegan doing particularly well among white men.
White men of New Jersey, we understand that you’re irked about the way the world is going and that it makes you feel better to tell some person who calls you on the phone, interrupting your dinner, that you’re going to go out and vote for Steve Lonegan, a man who once expressed his view of the social safety net by saying, “I’d hate to see you get cancer, but that’s your problem, not mine.”
But really, white men of New Jersey, get a grip.
It’s theoretically possible that Lonegan could win. Perhaps nobody in New Jersey will remember there’s an election Wednesday except Lonegan’s immediate family. Then, he’d make history while all the Republicans who are trying to dial their party back from a cliff bang their heads against the wall.
It’d be terrible. Just not as terrible as interrupting Chris Christie’s special day.