Cory Booker fends off Democratic challengers in N.J. debate

NEWARK, NJ - MAY 08: Newark Mayor Cory Booker speaks at the Newark City Hall on May 8, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey. Booker, who has declared that he will run for New Jersey's open U.S. Senate seat in 2014, was attending a ceremony honoring 90-year-old WWII veteran Willie Wilkins on the 68th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
John Moore/Getty Images

Newark Mayor Cory Booker on Monday night brushed off minor challenges from the three Democrats running against him for the party's nomination in New Jersey's special Senate election, casting himself as a fresh voice in politics.

"Enough is enough. We have seen what 40 years of experience is getting us," Booker said, referencing the nearly 40 years of congressional experience between two of his competitors, Reps. Frank Pallone and Rush Holt. He's also running against state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver for the Democratic nomination in the race to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of 89-year-old Sen. Frank Lautenberg in June.

The primary takes place on Aug. 13, while the general special election will be held on Oct. 16. Booker is the clear frontrunner in the race.

The mayor has made a name for himself with his high profile on social media, a couple of dramatic incidents helping constituents - like pulling one out of a burning building - and by serving as a surrogate for President Obama in the 2012 campaign. A Quinnpiac poll from last month showed Booker leading the Democrats with 52 percent support, while Pallone pulled in 10 percent, Holt won 8 percent and Oliver took 3 percent. He's also managed to overshadow his Democratic competitors in fundraising, raking in $2.1 million just last month.

Booker's competitors on Monday night criticized him for his lack of experience in federal politics and attacked him for supporting a voucher program backed by New Jersey's Republican governor, Chris Christie. Booker, however, managed to turn the issue back on his opponents, the New Jersey Star-Ledger reported, pointing out that both Pallone and Holt voted in favor of a voucher-like program.

Holt, meanwhile, launched an ad this week saying that Booker is "no progressive." Holt says in the ad that he supports a carbon tax, breaking up the big banks and stopping the government from "spying on innocent Americans" - all ideas he says Booker opposes.

Whoever wins the nomination will face in the October special election one of two Republicans: former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan or Franklin Township physician Alieta Eck. New Jersey, however, hasn't elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 40 years.