A top aide to Republican New Jersey Senate hopeful Steve Lonegan went into decidedly not-safe-for-work territory when TPM asked why he thinks his candidate has been gaining on Democratic opponent Cory Booker in recent polls.
In a profanity-filled assessment of the race delivered via phone Thursday, Rick Shaftan, a senior staffer and key strategist on Lonegan’s campaign, suggested voters would be turned off by Booker’s “odd” behavior including Twitter messages the Democrat sent to a stripper, that Shaftan described as “strange” and “like what a gay guy would say.”
“It was just weird. I mean, to me, you know, hey, if he said, ‘Hey, you got really hot breasts man, I’d love to suck on them.’ Then like, yeah, cool. But like, he didn’t say that,” Shaftan explained. “It was like kind of like, I don’t know, it was like what a gay guy would say to a stripper. It’s the way he was talking to her. It’s just like like there was no sexual interest at all. I don’t know. To me, if I was single and you know like some stripper was tweeting me, I might take advantage of the perks of the office, you know?”
Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J., appeared in an as-yet-unreleased documentary about Twitter with the Portland, Ore.-based stripper, Lynsie Lee. Their Twitter exchanges made headlines late last month after Buzzfeed highlighted a brief, private exchange the two of them had on the social network.
“And the East Coast loves you and by the East Coast, I mean me,” Booker wrote to Lee.
“Well now I’m blushing :),” she replied.
“Its only fair,” wrote Booker.
The Booker campaign initially dismissed the minor media frenzy generated by the Twitter messages. Spokesman Kevin Griffis responded by characterizing the exchange between Booker and Lee as proof “the mayor remains accessible and engages with people.” Griffis also joked that the fact Lee works for a club in Oregon that bills itself as the “world’s first vegan strip club” was actually “the most shocking thing about this story.”
At a press conference, Booker said his communications with Lee were simply proof he spends substantial time on Twitter “listening to people and engaging with people no matter what their profession.”
However, in the interview with TPM, Shaftan said it was impossible Booker did not take notice of the topless pictures Lee regularly shared on her Twitter page.
“This is strange. It’s just weird. … It’s like, ‘I don’t know who she is. I don’t know anything about her.’ Get the fuck out of here dude. You can’t follow her Twitter page and not know she’s got those great breasts. How do you fucking not know?” Shaftan said. “It’s just too odd and people they just wonder, like, who does this guy really want to work for? Who’s he representing?”
Though Booker still maintains a double-digit lead in the polls, Lonegan has been gaining on his rival since September. The campaign for the former Tea Party activist and three-term mayor of Bogota, N.J., has also been touting internal polling that they say shows the race is actually “neck-and-neck.”
Shaftan didn’t stop by mocking Booker for consorting with a stripper on social media. He also said Booker’s Hollywood fundraisers, predilection for pedicures, and comments Booker made that he is unconcerned about speculation surrounding his sexuality gave Lonegan ample fodder.
Though Shaftan clearly has plenty to say about Booker’s conduct, he said Lonegan came up with most of the jabs they launched at Booker by himself.
“He’s a great candidate, man. You know when the candidate like says to you, ‘Rick, grow a pair of balls.’ I always like to hear that, because Steve, he wants to win,” said Shaftan. “He doesn’t personally attack Booker. It’s all based on fact and, you know, I mean the pedicures … it’s things (Booker) said. He’s the one who went to Hollywood and had the fundraiser, you know. It’s just like, you know, he talked about being gay or whatever. … It’s like, dude, you’re bringing all this shit up yourself.”
Shaftan even suggested Booker’s behavior earned him a place among some of history’s most infamous sex scandals. He compared Booker’s behavior to two politicians who were undone by their indiscretions: former Democratic senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart, whose presidential campaign essentially ended after the the Donna Rice scandal; and former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), who was arrested in 2007 in an airport sex sting. According to an undercover police officer, Craig made gestures indicating he wanted to engage in “lewd contact” while they were sitting in adjacent bathroom stalls. Craig’s gestures allegedly included tapping his feet under the stall divider. Shaftan argued Booker and these other officials needed to be far more discreet.
“It’s like Gary Hart — follow me,” Shaftan said, comparing Booker’s comments about the speculation he’s gay to the time that Hart infamously responded to questions about his womanizing by challenging the press to tail him.
“Gary Hart was like on his way to the nomination and then you see this picture on the front of the National Enquirer. It’s like, holy shit what a fucking idiot. … Like what are you thinking? … I’ve worked with people who like to have friends, girlfriends and shit, but they’ll never get photographed with them, you know? It’s like, they’re very discreet and professional, you know? You kind of know, but it’s not like sit on my lap, let me eat your pussy while you’re sitting here,” Shaftan said.
“It’s like, what the fuck man?” he continued. “I don’t know what this guy was thinking. I mean, you see these guys — it’s like, you know, what’s his name? Larry Craig is in the bathroom. It’s like, what, you don’t think like people will say, ‘Oh, I know who you are.’ … You’re like soliciting sex in a mens room. You’re a fucking U.S. senator man. … Holy shit like, I was just tapping to some music in my head. It wasn’t the big head, man.”
Along with personal missteps, Shaftan also suggested Booker’s campaign has made more mundane political mistakes; not using its war chest wisely and not establishing a strong ground game. However, even when discussing these decidedly less salacious aspects of the race, Shaftan’s comments were quite colorful.
“We’ve got all these people. They’re just going to be picking up signs and putting them all over the place. … They’re just going to be everywhere, which is exactly what we want to do. We want them everywhere. We want them like on every road, every place you go you just see Lonegan signs,” Shaftan said. “You know what, Booker’s spending the same amount of money — I’m not making this shit up — on New York Daily News web ads. New York Daily News, which nobody fucking reads in New Jersey.”
Shaftan also accused Booker’s campaign of having “ignored” certain constituencies in the state.
“He’s doing web ads in a race where the median age is 65,” said Shaftan. “And by the way, we’re winning seniors by a significant margin right now. We’re winning seniors, suburbanites, all the people that he’s ignored, we’re winning them all.”
After his extensive, X-rated breakdown of the Booker campaign, Shaftan had a more prosaic take on Lonegan’s position heading into the final days of the race.
“Where are we in the home stretch?” Shaftan asked. “Surging.”