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On Thursday, Senator Carl Levin (D. MI) announced his retirement yesterday and we are still waiting on Senator Tim Johnson's (D. SD) decision whether to retire or run for a fourth term.  But there's one guy we know is running for Senate but for some reason is taking his time to make it official:

Cory Booker confirmed to BuzzFeed Tuesday that he would not make his bid for U.S. Senate official until after the New Jersey gubernatorial race this November.

Following weeks of speculation late last year over whether the Newark mayor would choose to run for governor in 2013 or for Senate in 2014, he announced in December that he would "consider" a bid for the latter race. Although Booker has since started to campaign — he filed paperwork with the Federal Election Committee in January, and he is headed later this month to a fundraiser in Florida in support of his Senate bid — he has declined to say definitively that he will be a Senate candidate, despite a universal acknowledgement that his candidacy is all but certain.

In his last interview on the subject, Booker would not concede that he would even run. "What I am running right now is the city of Newark," he told the host of a local radio show last month. "I'm not bonding myself to doing it, and I'm not making any formal announcement." - BuzzFeed, 3/5/13

Booker says that he also plans to help campaign and fund raise Democratic Gubernatorial candidate, Barbara Buono, in her bid to oust incumbent Governor Chris Christie (R. NJ).  Unseating Christie is going to be a long and tough road ahead because for whatever reason, Christie is pretty popular.  But hey, maybe he can help Buono pull off an upset victory.  We shall see.

Now I'm trying to stay neutral on this race.  I understand why Booker's candidacy bothers people here.  His remarks about the President Obama's attacks on Mitt Romney and his time at Bain Capital and his ties to the financial industry certainly make people in this community skeptical about his authenticity.  I also understand why people here feel like Booker muscled incumbent Senator Frank Lautenberg (D. NJ) into retirement.  But I do think this race should be watched closely, not because I think we could lose this seat (it's the Garden State), but because it could get very interesting.  The Washington Post touched on Booker's State of The Union speech as a clear indication that he is getting ready to run for the Senate:

Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) offered a full-throated defense of his record as mayor of Newark in his State of the City address Tuesday night, keeping up an effort to shore up his résumé in advance of a probable Senate run in which opponents will likely try to use Booker’s record against him.

Booker began his speech by pointing to the challenges he faced when he entered office in 2006, and went on to note the city’s improvements since then. He noted progress in reducing overtime and boosting city worker productivity, as well as the Housing Authority reforms he spearheaded, among other things. Overall, Booker’s speech marked a departure from previous addresses. Here’s what the Newark Star-Ledger reported:

In the past, the mayor’s speeches have been filled with lofty goals and bold initiatives aimed at improving the lives of city residents. But as Booker looks to become the first mayor to leave City Hall for higher office in more than 160 years, his 75-minute address tonight largely looked back as he extolled his record as chief executive of the state’s largest — and often most troubled — city, a record his primary opponents are likely to challenge.

The speech is notable because it appears to be part of a larger Booker effort to portray his record in a positive light and push back against critics. When Booker declared last last year that he would explore a Senate run, much of his video announcement was devoted to touting his tenure as mayor of Newark. - Washington Post, 3/6/13

You can watch Booker's video announcement here:

Before announcing his retirement, Lautenberg made a pretty sharp criticism about Booker's record as mayor of Newark:

Asked later about a Booker candidacy, Lautenberg criticized the mayor for seeming more concerned about his growing national profile than the fate of New Jersey’s largest city.

“It’s so funny, because my office is in Newark and every day that I go to work, I go to Newark. Every day I go to work, he leaves,” Lautenberg quipped, adding later that “I’d encourage him to finish the job that has to be done in Newark. We still have a lot of violence, we still have a lot of inconvenience.” - Washington Post, 2/14/13

Plus Booker doesn't have the nominee wrapped up just yet.  Yes, Booker has a high favorable profile in the state and has made the national media spotlight for his use of Twitter to reach out to constituents, his passionate speech for marriage equality and how he saved a woman from a burning building.  Booker even recently helped out a young lawyer with his marriage proposal to his girlfriend:

Newark mayor Cory Booker has helped residents survive blizzards and hurricanes, helped dogs get out of the freezing cold, and on Wednesday night, he helped a young couple get engaged.

Israel Burns, 26, a lawyer in New York City who went to law school in Newark between 2009 and 2011, wanted to propose to his girlfriend Misha Wright, who is also a lawyer. He told BuzzFeed that he tweeted at Booker, a famously prolific Twitter user, Tuesday morning, asking the mayor if he could lend a hand. Booker responded 10 minutes later:

The two followed up over the phone. Burns wanted to pop the question to Wright during the Asian American Bar Association of New York’s annual dinner in Midtown Manhattan; the two first met at the same event last year. Booker couldn’t attend personally, so the two decided the mayor would talk to Wright on the phone. - Time Magazine, 2/28/13
But Booker can't rely on his image alone.  He knows his record as mayor of Newark is going to be highlighted heavily both in the primary and in the general election.  His speech is a clear indication that he is getting ready for a potentially nasty primary with Congressman Frank Pallone (D. NJ-6) who is also looking at the Senate race.  

The other thing that could make this race interesting to watch is if this guy actually decides to run as the Republican nominee:

Fox News host Geraldo Rivera — who is mulling a New Jersey senatorial campaign as a Republican — lobbed a Twitter attack over the weekend against Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who could be Rivera’s Democratic opponent.

The tweet, as noted by The New Jersey Star-Ledger:

- Politico, 3/4/13
Five years ago, I would've told you that there is no way in hell Gerlado Rivera would ever run for office like the U.S. Senate.  But with the inmates running the asylum, anything can happen.  Then again, who knows if Rivera would even win the GOP nominee.  I would think that the New Jersey GOP would actually try to recruit a serious challenger to take on someone like Booker and go after his record but I think their too focused on making sure Christie gets a second term.

Booker's also been playing some serious defense in the press not only with his record but also with his paid speaking gigs:

Mayor Cory A. Booker has earned about $1 million from public speaking engagements during his seven years in office, as he has built his position at City Hall into a national brand.

 The mayor, whose city salary is roughly $135,000 a year, said he had donated almost all of the outside earnings to charity.

“Even though I am entitled to keep it,” he said, “after Uncle Sam takes his share and after I’ve given away hundreds and hundreds of thousands, I’ve kept very little of it, if any.”

Mr. Booker said in an interview on Monday that he had “definitely” earned more from speeches than from salary, “but if you minus out all that I’ve given away, it’s not that much money.” - New York Times, 3/4/13

Booker has stated that he has donated the money to non-profit groups and organizations like the Integrity House, a drug-treatment center.  He has also donated to other causes like baseball uniforms and fixing up his neighbor's house that burned down.  To be fair, Booker's paid speaking gigs have been with educational institutions and nonprofit groups.  He will release a full accounting of his outside earnings in the next month or so.

It's still very early for this race.  Unlike races in Iowa, West Virginia, South Dakota and Michigan where Democrats are working to get an early start in recruiting top notch candidates to secure their majority in the Senate, I don't think there's any rush with this race.  If Booker wants to finish up some things as mayor and help Buono in her race against Christie, I say go for it.  Take your time.  Pallone should take his time too.  I think Garden State Democrats deserve a serious primary and Booker will soon have to make the case to Democratic voters why he should be their nominee.  So no rush here.

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