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Cory Booker the favorite for NJ Senate seat, but still has a race to win

The death of US Senator Frank Lautenberg has set off a scramble to fill the seat via a primary election in August and a special election in October. On Saturday, Newark Mayor Cory Booker entered the race.

Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark known for running into a burning building to save a neighbor, has officially announced that he’ll seek New Jersey’s open seat in the US Senate.

This isn’t a surprise.

Mayor Booker is considered the clear favorite in the race. The Democratic mayor of New Jersey’s largest city had already been public about his aspirations to serve in the US Senate. But the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) Monday changed the timetable dramatically.

Booker and his rivals for the seat face a two-month sprint for a special primary election, followed by an October special election to determine who goes to Washington.

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And although Booker represents a formidable presence in the race from the get-go, he’ll still have to seal the deal with voters – persuading them that he’ll be the best to represent them on issues that go beyond the scope of a big-city mayor, ranging from foreign policy to federal taxes.

“I’m here today to officially announce my candidacy to be New Jersey’s next United Statessenator,” Booker said Saturday, flanked by former Sen. Bill Bradley at a Trenton news conference.

He framed his candidacy as not about particular issues but about the nation’s need for civic renewal, with less cynicism and partisan bickering.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport, [and] now as much as in any time, we must bring people together,” he said. “We must get actually into the complicated difficult messy arena and take on the difficult challenges, work in uncommon ways with conviction and courage.”

He said his track record is to run toward problems, not away.

He didn’t reference the burning building episode directly, but that’s one incident that backs up his pitch.

While heading home from work on a spring night in 2012, Booker and his security detail saw a residence ablaze. After helping some fleeing residents, the mayor rushed back through smoke-filled corridors when he heard someone still inside – and helped a woman get safely out.

Booker has also been known to help patrol city streets in an effort reduce crime. When a blizzard struck, he helped shovel out cars.

He’s had his run-ins with other local politicians. And he appeared to unsettle Senator Lautenberg by laying out his Senate ambitions, at a time when the 89-year-old World War II vet had not formally announced whether he would seek reelection.

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Lautenberg announced earlier this year that he would not run in the 2014 election. In announcing his candidacy Saturday, Booker made a point of praising Lautenberg, as well as Mr. Bradley, as local role models.

If Booker wins the 2013 special election, on a schedule announced this week by Gov. Chris Christie (R), he would have to run again in a year to retain the seat.

Booker pledged that, if elected, he would “have the valor to reach out” across party lines in working on difficult challenges.

At least once, an effort to speak out against partisanship has landed Booker in controversy. In one national TV appearance during the 2012 election campaign, he took presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama to task for “nauseating” attacks on one another.

Some Democrats pilloried Booker for distancing himself from President Obama in that way, amid what was perceived as a potentially tight presidential election.