There are three Democrats in the New Jersey Senate race positioning themselves as alternatives to Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D).

That's not the worst thing in the world for the Senate front-runner.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D). (Mel Evans/AP) Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D). (Mel Evans/AP)

On the one hand, being the leader of the pack exposes Booker to attacks from all sides. But on the other, if the "not Booker" vote is split anywhere near evenly among his opponents, it ups the likelihood the Newark mayor will win because it would mean his opposition isn't lining up in one corner.

Rep. Frank Pallone has been taking aim at Booker's cozy relationship with Gov. Chris Christie (R). Rep. Rush Holt has pitched himself as the quirky, lower-profile alternative to Booker the celebrity. And state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver has had tough words for Booker long before she entered the race, and recently said she has "vastly broader" legislative experience. Plus, she expected to compete for some of the same voters Booker will court: both are African American and both are from Essex County.

So each of the three can reasonably compete for voters not sold on Booker, who polls show is the clear early favorite.

As we wrote early this month, Christie's decision to hold an August special primary and October special election for the seat once held by the late Frank Lautenberg is an inconvenience for Booker. It forced him to speed up his campaign, and invited members of the congressional delegation to run without risk of losing their seats in the House. The potential for an unpredictable and crowded field was another variable Booker had to confront.

But no candidates from South Jersey got into the race, which was a break for Booker considering he is less well-known in that part of the state.

A lot can change between now and August. It's possible that one of Booker's three opponents emerges far ahead of the other two and gives him a run for his money. It's also possible none of Booker's opponents will be able to make up the necessary ground in a sprint campaign. This much is clear: For now, Booker is the candidate to beat.


And now, to the Line! Below we rank the top five most interesting races of 2013. The marquee matchup is number one:

5. Boston Mayor (Democratic-controlled): The field to succeed retiring Mayor Thomas Menino is packed. Twelve candidates are running, and the dust has yet to fully settle. EMILY's List announced this week that it is backing Charlotte Golar Richie, the only woman in the field. Meanwhile, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley has been flexing his financial muscle. This is the first open race for the seat since 1983, so the competition is expected to be intense. (Previous ranking: 4)

4. New Jersey Senate (D): The newly declared Oct. 16 special election is unlikely to be competitive, given the fact that Republicans didn’t land a top-tier candidate (their field is led by former Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan, the tea party alternative to Christie in the 2009 GOP governor primary). And the Aug. 13 primary is threatening to be a little anti-climactic too, with early polls suggesting Booker has a huge early advantage on Pallone, Holt and Oliver. (Previous ranking: N/A)

3. Massachusetts Senate (D): A new UMass-Lowell/Boston Herald poll shows Rep. Ed Markey (D) leading former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez (R) by 20 points. The writing is on the wall in this race. Markey has outraised and ouspent Gomez, he's brought in the likes of Bill Clinton and President Obama to stump for him, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Senate Majority PAC have spending big on his behalf. Gomez hasn't attracted much buy-in from outside groups, and has been unable to rattle the steady, if not captivating, Democratic nominee. There's a reason Scott Brown's 2010 win was so remarkable: It's a difficult feat for a Republican to pull off in deep blue Massachusetts, as Gomez has learned. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Virginia governor (Republican-controlled): Given that two-thirds of The Fix team lives in the Commonwealth and that there are so few races in 2013, we really want this one to be interesting. And by all rights, it should be, given the two very interesting characters who are running, Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe. So far, though, this race has been sleepy, which is why we’re dropping it to No. 2 behind the ever-fascinating race for mayor of the Big Apple. (Previous ranking: 1)

1. New York City mayor (Independent-controlled): This race just got a whole lot more interesting with the late entry of disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner (D). Weiner, though, got in some hot water Thursday when gay rights activists got complained that he excused a woman who called Weiner’s rival, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a “dyke.” The latest polls suggest Weiner and Quinn are neck and neck in a crowded field. (Previous ranking: 2)