Has Cory Booker hurt his own political career?

Don't look for a prime time speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention for Cory Booker, but his defense of Wall Street – and criticism of the Obama campaign – won't hurt his standing with moderates or Wall Street donors.

Charles Sykes/AP/File
Newark Mayor Cory Booker speaks onstage at Gospelfest in Newark, NJ, on May 12.

Has Cory Booker hurt his own political career? That’s a valid question in the wake of his misstep last Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Mr. Booker – the Democratic mayor Newark, N.J. – called President Obama’s anti-Bain Capital campaign ads “nauseating." He and the Obama campaign have been in full damage-control mode ever since.

Well, one thing’s for sure – a prime time Booker speech at the Democratic National Convention is now pretty unlikely. That would only cause the “Meet the Press” clip to run in rotation on cable news again. So the Newark mayor, often described as a rising star, won’t get the exposure that then-little known Barack Obama did when he delivered the DNC keynote address in 2004.

Plus, his own ties to Wall Street have now become press fodder. On Monday, the liberal website Think Progress revealed that Bain officials and others in the finance industry contributed more than $565,000 to Booker’s first mayoral campaign in 2002. Stories about links between financial groups and Booker, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, and other Democrats who criticized the Bain ads came out so fast that some on the right suspect they were planted by the Obama camp.

“I expected them to send out oppo research on Republicans.... But I don’t think I ever would’ve predicted they’d be digging up dirt on their own campaign surrogates,” wrote Ben Howe on the conservative RedState blog.

Booker’s in-state party rivals have even begun tweaking him over his misstep. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) of New Jersey, for instance, holds a seat that Booker is rumored to want for himself. On Tuesday, Senator Lautenberg said Booker’s words were “a terrible blow, in my view, for President Obama."

The mayor of Newark is spending too much time giving speeches elsewhere, Lautenberg told Roll Call.

“Newark needs hands-on kind of leadership, and it’s not getting the attention" it needs, Lautenberg said.

But here’s our view: Booker is OK here. If anything, he’s helped his chances of winning a statewide New Jersey office, such as governor or senator.

First of all, he’s now more famous than ever. He’s gotten plenty of media exposure – and he’s a naturally appealing political talent. Yes, he’s eating a little humble pie, but in general voters agree with his original sentiment: Negative advertising is nauseating, and there’s way too much of it in our current political culture.

Second, it’s New Jersey. See that city on the other side of the Hudson? It’s New York, where Wall Street is. Any New Jersey politician will have constituents with financial-industry ties and likely will find it expedient to raise Wall Street money. In that context, it might be dangerous for Booker to come across as anti-Bain.

Third, Booker may be better off in the Garden State if there’s some distance between him and Obama. New Jersey is reliably blue at the presidential level, but it’s not liberal – Gov. Chris Christie is not only a Republican, he’s a possible Mitt Romney VP pick. And what Booker’s comments might really have done is expose the rift between liberals and the more pro-business, moderate wing of the Democratic Party.

Booker is a leading Democratic moderate, writes Josh Kraushaar in National Journal. He won his 2002 race by taking on the Newark Democratic establishment and the city’s widespread cronyism.

“The Booker governing model, premised on bipartisanship and taking on ideological party factions, runs contrary in many ways to Obama’s record. It’s why Booker’s call for Obama to elevate the rhetoric drove Chicago batty: It was a stinging reminder that the candidate’s promise of a post-partisan approach in 2008 had given way to the reality of governing in a polarized Washington and the necessity of running a highly negative campaign against Romney,” Kraushaar writes in his “Against the Grain” column this week.

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