"You're going to see a lot of cheap shots taken at me," Booker said Thursday. Then, like all New Jersey politicians must, he invoked Bruce Springsteen.
"Bring on your wrecking ball," he said.
Booker's Republican opponent, Steven Lonegan, didn't hesitate. He called Booker's term as mayor a failure—even worse than that of the man he replaced, a convicted criminal.
Just under two months before election day, the candidates traded barbs in dueling appearances, each decrying the other as an extremist whose views would harm the state and nation.
The back-to-back press conferences hardened the blows that were first volleyed during primary victory speeches last week. The shift comes after party races that, by New Jersey standards, were downright genial.
At a news conference held in a frigid produce warehouse, Booker said he has more common ground with centrist Republicans than their party's candidate.
"There are going to be many in the mainstream Republican party who will find out they have more in common with me than my opponent in this election," Booker said of Lonegan.
"I'm telling you right now this election is not a choice between a Democrat and a Republican. It is a choice between pragmatism and extremism," said Booker, who was surrounded by labor leaders and members and elected officials.
Booker said Lonegan would strip away women's rights, disregard the elderly and sick, raise taxes on the working poor and refuse to work with Democrats.
In a hastily organized rebuttal at a nearby hotel, Lonegan said Newark was better off under its previous mayor, Sharpe James, who was convicted of fraud after leaving office, than Booker, who he said is "far too liberal" for New Jersey.
"As mayor of Newark, you've seen Cory Booker's economic policies fail," Lonegan said, citing Newark's high unemployment rates over the past few years, and claims Newark has been the beneficiary of corporate subsidies.
Lonegan also disregarded Booker's call for people to work together, calling it "vague rhetoric and vapid statements."
Lonegan also took personal shots at Booker, a Rhodes Scholar who grew up in suburban Harrington Park.
"Cory Booker was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His parents were IBM executives," Lonegan said. "Cory Booker does not know what it is to struggle to survive."
Booker and Lonegan each won their party's nominations easily last month as they vie to replace late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died in June. The special election is scheduled for Oct. 16.