Why Cory Booker’s relationship with Chris Christie (probably) won’t hurt him

June 14, 2013

Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) have a pretty warm relationship. And Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone's not a fan.

Pallone's hoping to exploit the the Christie-Booker bromance to his advantage in the Democratic Senate primary. While the tactic may yet work (it's too early to say), Christie's widespread popularity that extends even to Democrats suggests the more likely bet is that it won't.

(Julio Cortez/AP)
(Julio Cortez/AP)

It's no secret that Booker and Christie have cultivated a chummy public relationship over the years. New Jersey's two most famous pols have teamed up to film humorous Web videos and watch football. The two have also found common ground on education.

"One of the criticisms I have of Cory Booker is he has this very close relationship with Gov. Christie, and it hasn't resulted in anything positive in my opinion," Pallone told WNYC-FM's Brian Lehrer on Tuesday.

The problem for Pallone is that tying Booker to Christie is not like tying him to a garden variety Republican. The governor is immensely popular -- not just among Republicans.

Christie had a 54 percent approval rating among Democrats in an NBC News/Marist College poll conducted in late April and early May. Among "strong Democrats," Christie's approval rating stood at 49 percent.

A more recent Quinnipiac University poll conducted earlier this month showed Democrats viewing Christie in a less flattering light. But still, four in 10 New Jersey Democratic voters said they approve of the job Christie is doing.

Now, Pallone's strategy may not be to sour all Democratic primary voters on Booker via his Christie ties. It may be simply to bring together the lion's share of Democratic voters who strongly oppose Christie under his umbrella. And in a four-way race which could produce a winner who carries less than a majority of the vote, that may prove to be a fruitful strategy.

But Booker's not prepared to cede any ground on the left. In an interview Friday with Lehrer, he was quick to point out that there are areas where he has major disagreements with Christie, like gay marriage, for example. And even as he underscored the points of contention, Booker sought to justify his relationship with Christie as an alternative to partisan gridlock.

"At the end of the day [the people of New Jersey] will applaud my ability to articulate where I am different than the other side. But what they really want is somebody to build a framework of where we can be together," said Booker.

Early polling shows Booker is a prohibitive favorite to win the primary. Christie is a virtual lock to win a second term. The popularity of both men means that on the whole, their relationship with one another has helped them more than it has hurt the two.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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