By Jason Carroll and Chris Welch
NEW EGYPT, New Jersey (CNN) — What does a candidate do if he’s down in the polls, days from the election, and his opponent is a political celebrity?
Answer: Bring in his own celebrity.
That’s what Senate hopeful Steve Lonegan did this weekend, just days before he faces off against Democratic nominee and Newark Mayor Cory Booker in New Jersey’s special U.S. Senate election on Wednesday.
His wild card? Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
“Can the rest of America count on you to send Steve Lonegan to the United States Senate?” Palin asked the crowd Saturday at a rally for Lonegan in Ocean County. It was her first appearance at a campaign rally in more than a year.
Lonegan, former mayor of Bogota, faces an uphill battle against Booker, a man well known on the national stage.
“Don’t be measuring the drapes there just quite yet,” Palin said in a warning to Booker.
Palin and Lonegan paint the race as a national referendum on President Barack Obama’s policies, including Obamacare.
“When we go to Washington on October 17 (the day after the special election), it’s going to be Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid that are going to fold,” Lonegan said at the rally.
Thanks in part to Lonegan’s aggressive ad campaign, Booker’s 28-percentage-point lead in August dipped to 12 points, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released last week.
That’s not surprising to some voters in New Jersey, a state where Democrats greatly outnumber Republicans.
“There are a lot of people in the state that have conservative values and just don’t know it,” one woman, Alexandra Zazanis of North Arlington, said at the rally.
But another voter said he’s not quite on board with Lonegan’s policies.
“I’m a Republican, but I think Lonegan’s a little bit too far to the right,” the man said.
Krista Jenkins, Director of Public Mind At Farleigh Dickenson University, acknowledge that Lonegan has narrowed his gap with Booker, but added the Republican is still a longshot for the Senate seat.
“We’re looking at a very blue state there’s approximately 700,000 more registered Democrats than there are Republicans,” she said. “So anyone who runs, with the exception of Chris Christie right now, anyone who runs as a Republican, you know, for the Senate is certainly going to have a more difficult time than somebody who’s a Democrat.”
And because Lonegan is a “movement conservative,” not a moderate Republican, his uphill fight is “much steeper” the Garden State, she said.
Lonegan is against abortion rights and same-sex marriage, but his views on Booker seem to be getting all the attention. Lonegan fired one of his top advisers, Rick Shaftan, Friday after that adviser gave a profanity-laced interview, ridiculing Booker for having a Twitter exchange with a stripper.
“I don’t know, it was like what a gay guy would say to a stripper,” the adviser said.
Lonegan said he can’t be responsible for what one of his supporters says.
“I have hundreds of activists, volunteers, donors, people on this campaign and I can’t be responsible for what all of them say, but I will take responsibility — so I terminated the gentleman for his inappropriate comment,” he told CNN.
Lonegan was criticized for his own comments about Booker after the Newark mayor addressed questions about whether he was gay.
“People who think I’m gay, some part of me thinks it’s wonderful,” Booker told The Washington Post. “Because I want to challenge people on their homophobia. I love seeing on Twitter when someone says I’m gay, and I say, ‘So what does it matter if I am? So be it. I hope you are not voting for me because you are making the presumption that I’m straight.'”
Lonegan weighed in on Booker’s comments during an August radio interview.
“It’s kind of weird. As a guy, I personally like being a guy,” he said.
Then there was the comment that Lonegan made during last week’s debate: “All that income tax and sales tax money gets poured into the big black hole of Newark.”
After facing some backlash from critics saying his remark was racist, Lonegan said Saturday, “the liberal media is going to say what they want to say.”
“Newark’s budget is a big black hole,” he continued. “And it sucks in millions and billions of suburban taxpayer dollars and we never see it again, period.”
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