Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cory Booker showed Republican Gov. Chris Christie some appreciation at a charter school ribbon-cutting on Wednesday as he stood to benefit from Christie's popularity during a difficult stretch in the campaign.
Christie is officially backing Republican Steve Lonegan in the Senate race but remains close to Booker, Newark's mayor, and the two share common ground on issues including charter schools.
Lonegan, a former Bogota mayor, has relentlessly attacked Booker over his closeness to celebrities and his many out-of-state trips and for what he calls his failure to focus enough attention on the problems in Newark, New Jersey's largest city. He rolled out a red carpet outside a restaurant on Monday to mock Booker's simultaneous appearance at a California fundraiser with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
In early August, Lonegan campaigned at the site of a killing to call attention to crime in Newark, where nine homicides in nine days later in the month led Booker to announce new measures to curb gun violence. More recently, Lonegan held a press conference outside a derelict property that a newspaper disclosed had been owned by Booker.
The barrage of Booker criticism may be starting to stick. Pollsters at Quinnipiac University say Booker's lead appears to have tightened with three weeks to go before the Oct. 16 special election to replace the late Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
Their recent poll of likely voters showed Booker with a lead of 12 percentage points compared with an early August poll of registered voters that showed a lead of 25 percentage points. Elections often appear tighter in polls among likely voters than they do among registered voters.
Booker hasn't answered Lonegan's attacks directly, though he seemed well aware of them as he welcomed Christie.
"To our governor, I want to give some guv love right now because we happen to be in this silly season of politics," Booker said.
Booker hadn't been out in public as mayor in more than a week and has held six public campaign events since Labor Day, when campaigns typically kick into high gear in New Jersey. On Wednesday, he didn't take questions.
Last week, however, he released his first televised ad of the general election campaign to air in the Philadelphia market. The ad doesn't mention Lonegan by name but accuses his opponent of wanting to outlaw abortion, rejecting any compromise and supporting the privatization of Social Security.
Christie appears to have an insurmountable lead in his re-election bid against a Democratic challenger seen as weak. So he's spending more time in cities such as Newark, where traditionally Democratic voters can help him run up a big margin of victory to take to a potential run for president in 2016.
Booker could get a boost along the way from a governor whose job approval rating is the envy of most politicians.
The Christie-Booker alliance goes back four years. As Booker tells it, he and Christie drove around the streets of Newark late one night before Christie took office finding areas on which they could agree, settling on education and development.
"The governor and I can write a dissertation on our disagreements," Booker said. "In the areas we agreed, we said we were going to do amazing things together. Today shows that when people can reach over those lines that divide and make ties that bind, what can be accomplished together."
Lonegan dismissed Wednesday's Christie-Booker appearance as something a governor does.
"Governor Chris Christie made a very clear point today," he said, "which is that Cory Booker cannot govern Newark without the governor's help."