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Ashley Killough CNN
Published: 13 August 2013

(CNN) -- Newark Mayor Cory Booker is poised to capture the Democratic nomination in New Jersey's primary Tuesday for a special Senate election.

Heading into the contest, the two-term mayor has a sizable fundraising advantage over his Democratic opponents and a crushing lead ahead of the crowded crop of candidates in recent polls.

In the Republican primary, former Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan is the overwhelming favorite, but he still falls way behind Booker in hypothetical matchups for the October special election.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called the special after Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg passed away in June. While a Republican--appointed as an interim senator by Christie--currently holds the seat, it has been expected a Democrat would win the special election in the largely blue state.

The winner of the October 16 race will finish out Lautenberg's term through 2014 and the winner can run for a full term next year.

The nonpartisan political handicappers Stuart Rothenberg and Charlie Cook both rate next year's Senate race in New Jersey as solid or safe for Democrats.

Booker, a rising star in the Democratic Party, has 54% support among likely Democratic primary voters, according to a Quinnipiac University survey released last week. Rep. Frank Pallone falls in a distant second with 17%, while Rep. Rush Holt has 15%, and General Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver has 5%. Eight percent of voters say they're undecided.

Should Lonegan win the GOP primary against physician Alieta Eck, the Republican still trails Booker 29%-54% among registered voters, according to the Quinnipiac poll.

With more than 1.4 million followers on Twitter and Oprah Winfrey as one of his biggest supporters, Booker's appeal and frequent television appearances have reached beyond the borders of the Garden State.

Elected as mayor in 2006, after losing his first attempt in 2002, the Stanford grad and former football player previously served on Newark city council. His resume also includes a law degree from Yale and a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford.

Booker largely ignored his Democratic opponents and did not attend debates or forums with the candidates until last week.

His critics have accused the mayor of being more interested in his celebrity status than waging a serious campaign.

But Booker's high profile has helped in part with his massive fundraising haul. As of July 24, the candidate has raised $8.6 million and has $4 million in the bank, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

Pallone, meanwhile, raised roughly $3.7 million, with a vast majority of those funds transferred from his 2014 House re-election campaign war chest.

For his part, Christie briefly weighed in on the race Monday, saying he "fully anticipate(s) endorsing the Republican nominee," no matter who wins the GOP primary.

The governor was criticized earlier this summer when he set the oddly-timed date for the special election. Rather than scheduling the primary and special election to fall in line with the already-set gubernatorial election in November, Christie set the special for October.

Critics pointed to the extra costs to taxpayers for a separate election, but the governor stood by his decision, saying New Jersey voters deserved to have an elected official in the Senate as soon as possible.

-- CNN's Kevin Liptak and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.


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