TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who has used his social-media and political savvy to gain national prominence, is in the race to finish the U.S. Senate term of the late Frank Lautenberg, along with two Democratic congressmen and a Republican former mayor.
In a three-way Democratic primary so far, Booker will face U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, who can count on support from labor, and Rep. Rush Holt. Candidates have until 4 p.m. Monday to enter the race to fill the seat for the rest of the term.
Booker, who scheduled kickoff events in Newark and Willingboro for Saturday, is the early front-runner, though anything could happen in a time-constrained summer primary election, when few people are expected to vote.
Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, announced after Lautenberg died Monday that there would be party primaries Aug. 13 and a special election Oct. 16, less than three weeks before the general election that features his own re-election bid.
Christie says he made the election schedule to allow voters to choose their representation as soon legally possible, but critics believe he also does not want to be on the same ballot as Booker, even if the two are running for different offices. The two are by far the most notable politicians in the state and have significant national profiles.
Christie has appointed state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa to serve in the Senate until after the October special election. Chiesa won't run in the election.
The only Republican running so far is conservative Steve Lonegan, a former Bogota mayor who runs the New Jersey office of Americans for Prosperity.
A wealthy self-funded candidate could still emerge.
Booker, 44, is an unconventional politician with a penchant for tweaking the establishment and unconventional following.
He has 1.4 million followers on Twitter — or five for every resident of the city where he's the mayor. He tweets frequently, answering questions about city services, posting about his workouts and, perhaps most often, trying to provide inspiration. For instance, late Thursday night, he sent this message: "We were born original without limitation, live your truth don't die an imitation."
He's always been good at getting attention, including a 10-day hunger strike years ago to protest open-air drug dealing and, last year, living on a food-stamp budget for a week.
In 2012, he rescued a neighbor from a burning home.
Booker has a running start in the race because he got in it early, even before Lautenberg announced in February that he would not seek re-election in 2014. As of March 31, Booker had raised $1.9 million.
Pallone, however, had more: $3.7 million at the end of the most recent reporting period.
Pallone, 61, has been a congressman since 1989. He has considered runs for senator before but never officially started a campaign for the office.
The other Democrat running is Holt, 64, a research physicist who was assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory before he entered the House in 1998. He told The Star-Ledger of Newark he's the best candidate to "continue the passionate advocacy for progressive values that Sen. Lautenberg exemplified."
Last year after Booker — a rising star in the Democratic party — made known his intentions to run for Lautenberg's seat in 2014, Pallone and Holt also said they were interested.
Booker, who grew up in suburban Harrington Park as the son of civil rights activists who were among the first black executives at IBM, went to Stanford, was a Rhodes Scholar, earned a law degree from Yale and took a job with the Urban Justice Center, which provides legal and other services to the vulnerable. He also moved to a public housing complex in Newark.
Booker's early days in politics pitted him against a lion of New Jersey politics. He was elected to the city council soon after moving to Newark and in 2002, he ran for mayor against the city's longtime leader, Sharpe James. He lost, but made a splash, and the campaign was documented in the film "Street Fight."
Four years later, he was elected mayor of the state's largest city. Under his watch, the city budget has been more stable and downtown redevelopment has picked up steam.
Booker is a liberal on most social issues — a supporter of allowing gay marriage, for instance. Pallone and Holt are also associated with liberal causes.
But he's also in favor of expanded educational choices for families in cities, including using public money to send children to private schools. That's a cause that unites some urban liberals with conservatives and infuriates teachers unions and, often, school district officials who believe the policy would take money from public schools that need it badly. New Jersey does not have scholarship program that does that, though Christie is pushing to start one.
Booker's critics in Newark see him as an ambitious interloper who spends too much of his time outside the city.
A Star-Ledger analysis last year of Booker's social media postings found that from the start of 2011 until the middle of 2012, he was out of New Jersey or the New York City area at least 119 days.
Booker's campaign has said that the networking he does ultimately helps the city.
In 2010, he was seated next to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at a dinner during a conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. Two months later, Zuckerberg announced a $100 million donation to improve education in Newark.
Mulvihill reported from Haddonfield. Associated Press writer Katie Zezima in from Newark contributed to this report.