CLARK, N.J. (AP) — Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul stepped into the U.S. Senate race in New Jersey Friday, endorsing the Republican candidate and urging the party to expand its ranks.
The tea party darling and libertarian came to so-called "Blue Jersey" to support Steve Lonegan, who faces Democrat Mayor Cory Booker of Newark in the Oct. 16 election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
Paul's visit followed a protracted spat with Republican Gov. Chris Christie over national security and federal aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy. Both are potential 2016 presidential candidates.
Paul told a cheering crowd of about 200 outside a banquet hall in Clark that Lonegan will uphold the principles they both share, including shrinking the size of government, opposing government surveillance and cutting spending. Both are opposed to military intervention in Syria. He urged the audience to rally Republicans to the polls.
"Steve Lonegan can win, and he only wins in a blue state like this if you go out and turn out every friend and make some new friends and turn them out," Paul said.
The Republican Party must grow and become one that is more inclusive and "looks like the rest of America" in order to win, he said.
A beaming Lonegan stepped to the podium and lavished praise on Paul.
"I look forward to the day I join Sen. Paul in the effort to restore individual liberty in this country," Lonegan said.
Christie had been invited to the rally but had declined, saying he and his wife would be celebrating her 50th birthday. Instead, the governor spent the day at the Jersey Shore, where a massive fire destroyed a boardwalk Thursday. The boardwalk was recently rebuilt, less than a year after it was heavily damaged by Superstorm Sandy.
Christie and Paul have tangled over their differing views on the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretaps and Paul's January vote against a storm aid package.
At the rally, Paul defended his vote. "It's not about not having disaster relief funds," Paul said. "It's about our being responsible taxpayers and not borrowing from China to rebuild in New Jersey."
Paul assailed Booker, telling the crowd that Newark is mired in high unemployment and poverty and calling the city's schools "crappy." But he also espoused views that Booker shares, saying that non-violent drug offenders should not be systematically put in prison and denied the right to vote.
Booker's campaign held a conference call Friday morning with New Jersey officials and residents who were helped by the federal Sandy aid that Paul rejected.
"I couldn't believe there were people in Congress who would fight this aid from coming in," said Mauro Raguseo, the mayor of Little Ferry, which was inundated with water from the Hackensack River during the storm.