Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), in his own words, is no Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D).
"I'll be the first to admit, I'm no Cory Booker," Holt says in an introductory campaign video released Wednesday. "I don't have a million Twitter followers, I've never run into a burning building, and I'm not friends with Mark Zuckerberg, though I did like him on Facebook."
It's a smart move for the Senate underdog.
Holt has no chance of competing with Booker's massive online following, the millions of dollars he will raise and the celebrity status he has attained. And as the video makes clear, he's not going to try.
Instead, the congressman is embracing the role of quirky underdog. He reminds voters that he is a scientist who has won on the popular game show “Jeopardy!” And he points to his liberal record on environmental issues and education.
Holt is one of three Democrats trying to upset Booker in the Aug. 13 special primary election. Early polling has shown the popular Newark mayor leading the pack by a very wide margin. Make no mistake: Booker is the clear front-runner.
By trying to carve out a "Not Booker" niche for himself in a not-too-antagonistic manner (tone is everything in politics), Holt does three things. One, he diffuses popularity comparisons off the bat. Two, he seizes the underdog/non-Booker mantle which could help him stand out from Rep. Frank Pallone and state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. Finally, he uses Booker's perceived assets against him.
Of course, Holt will remain a long shot until he proves he can keep pace with Booker and the rest of the field on traditional campaign metrics, and make a dent in the polls. But he's signaling early that he's going to give it a go in a novel way. And in a race with such a heavy favorite, an unconventional approach may be the only hope for an upset.