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Pascrell: Booker Doesn’t Scare Lautenberg

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. discussed the New Jersey Senate race with CQ Roll Call Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. discussed the New Jersey Senate race with CQ Roll Call Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democratic Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg won’t be intimidated, nor will he decide his political future based on Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s entrance into the New Jersey Senate race, Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. suggested in an interview with CQ Roll Call on Tuesday.

“My friend Frank Lautenberg is a dog. I mean he ain’t gonna lay down for anybody,” Pascrell said. “He will make the right decision when it comes time, so I’m confident in the process. I’m confident in our bench and we’ll see what happens.”

Lautenberg has yet to announce whether he will seek re-election in 2014. But Booker has filed papers with the Federal Election Commission, possibly paving the way for a contested Democratic primary. The move has sparked drama of the Garden State variety. Lautenberg’s aides have responded with highly critical, anonymous comments to the press directed at Booker.

“That’s kind of like, in-your-face. So, now you know how I think about it,” Pascrell said of Booker’s decision to file his candidacy papers before Lautenberg had announced whether he would run for re-election. “It’s a photo-op. What can I tell you?”

Pascrell said the mayor has encouraged him to challenge Republican Gov. Chris Christie in the state’s gubernatorial contest this year. Many Democrats were hoping Booker would run for governor, rather than the Senate.

“I know Cory Booker. He’s urging me to run for governor now that he found another place,” Pascrell said. “I think we’ll have an interesting race. When push comes to shove, who knows if there’ll be a primary.”

But Pascrell touched on the political reality that was Booker’s likely strategic motivation for filing with the Federal Election Commission: It has been an open secret for months, if not years, that Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. has longed to run for Senate and has used his House FEC account to build up a war chest for a Senate run. Essentially, Booker wanted to get the jump on Pallone and other veteran New Jersey Democrats who have long eyed a Senate bid.

“Frank will tell you privately that he’s interested,” Pascrell said. “He hasn’t announced, he hasn’t put any accounts together because he’s in a different situation than Cory. He’s got a federal account; Cory doesn’t.”

“I’ve worked closely with Frank Pallone since he’s been here. There are a lot of things we don’t agree on, [but] no one works harder,” Pascrell added.

As for his own political future, Pascrell is involved in discussions about the gubernatorial race.

“That’s another story. I can’t get into the details. I had a long conversation with [state] Sen. [Richard] Codey this morning,” he said. “Many of the people that have talked to me in the last three weeks have urged me, this octogenarian, to consider doing this thing.”

Pascrell is 75 years old.

“I have a lot of work in my district, not only with Sandy, but it’s a new district. I lost 75 percent of my district. I had to fight a primary. It took a toll on my family,” he said. “And I’m back, I’m ready, but I’m not ready to make any announcements. I’m not even close. I would say in the next three weeks you will have a clear picture on who’s running.”