New Jersey's Republican Senate nominee Steve Lonegan told U.S. News Wednesday that gay voters should cast ballots for him over Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the Democratic nominee in the Oct. 16 special election to replace Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died June 3.
"They will not have a stronger advocate for individual liberty in Washington than me," Lonegan said. "My message to gay voters is: I'm the guy who is going to work hardest to cut your taxes and roll back regulations on small businesses... [and advocate for] individual liberty and especially protecting people against NSA intrusion."
The NSA's Internet surveillance activities, he said, may be "even more important to gay voters." Lonegan is particularly outspoken in his opposition to the NSA surveillance, while Booker more cautious in his critique; in July a spokesperson for Booker said he opposed the narrowly defeated Amash amendment in the House, which would have banned the NSA's ongoing collection of the phone records of all Americans.
"Many of the gay people I know run their own businesses," Lonegan added, "that's the number one reason why gay people should vote for me." The Republican candidate, who formerly served as mayor of Bogota, N.J., would like most federal business regulations to sunset after seven years.
Lonegan spoke with U.S. News after several publications reported he found some of Booker's comments on his own sexuality "weird." In an article published Monday by the Washington Post, Booker said he enjoys when people mistakenly think he is gay.
"People who think I'm gay, some part of me thinks it's wonderful," Booker told the 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.'"
In a Tuesday interview with Newsmax, Lonegan responded: "It's kind of weird. As a guy, I personally like being a guy. I don't know if you saw the stories last year. They've been out for quite a bit about how he likes to go out at three o'clock in the morning for a manicure and a pedicure."
Lonegan clarified his thoughts to U.S. News.
"I don't care what Cory Booker's lifestyle is," he said. "He's a huge proponent of big government... and would be a rubber stamp for the Obama assault on individual liberty, that's why gay voters should vote for me."
Booker's public approach to his own sexuality, according to Lonegan, neatly fits with his approach to other issues.
"The guy's masterful at trying to play both sides of every issue, including his own sexuality," Lonegan charged. "He's being vague and vapid as he is on every issue. It's so bizarre."
Lonegan admitted that gay voters may not like his position on same-sex marriage, which he opposes.
"I look at marriage as a religious institution while simultaneously advocating for the individual rights of gay people to live their lives as they choose to live them," he said. "We can differ on what marriage is, but we are never going to differ on what individual liberty is."
Booker would likely disagree.
"[T]he issue of equal rights for LGBTQ New Jerseyans is a red line question for me," his campaign website says. The Defense of Marriage Act, part of which the Supreme Court struck down in June, is a "national tragedy," the site says. Repealing the remainder of DOMA may be an issue for New Jersey's next senator to decide.
"Steve Lonegan represents a backwards-looking politics," Booker campaign spokesman Kevin Griffis told U.S. News. "He opposes marriage equality and makes bigoted comments about members of the gay community, as he did yesterday, suggesting gay men aren't real men."
The Washington Post comment about sexuality, Griffis clarified, was meant to communicate Booker's belief that "an election is about the content of a candidate's character and his or her plans for the state and the country, not race or ethnicity or sexual orientation."
A poll released Aug. 20 by Monmouth University found Booker with a 16 percentage point lead. Both sides are touting prominent endorsements from fellow party members. President Barack Obama recently endorsed Booker, while New Jersey's Republican governor, Chris Christie, and likely GOP presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., are backing Lonegan.
Watch Lonegan's Newsmax interview: