Report: Frank Lautenberg to retire, clearing the way for Cory Booker; Update: Or not?

Too bad. A Lautenberg/Booker primary would have been fun as a pure, almost laboratory test of the power of incumbency. Is Lautenberg’s name recognition in Jersey so high that a majority of Democrats would go pull the lever for an 88-year-old political dinosaur instead of a young, appealing, neo-Obama who’s known for running into burning buildings to rescue people?

Alas, we’ll never know.

Sources familiar with Lautenberg’s thinking tell NBC 4 New York that the senator, who turns 89 this month, won’t run again in 2014. The news comes the same week that Newark Mayor Cory Booker has filed papers allowing him to raise money for a U.S. Senate run in New Jersey…

Booker also commented to NBC 4 New York on Friday about a column he wrote for the Stanford Daily as a student columnist in 1992. In the piece, the future mayor admitted he had at one point in his life “hated gays.”

“Well, it didn’t take me long to realize that the root of my hatred did not lie with gays but with myself,” he wrote. “It was my problem. A problem I dealt with by ceasing to tolerate gays and instead seeking to embrace them.”

The new main event in New Jersey: Booker vs. Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone, who’s represented the state in the House since back when Booker was at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship. That could be fun too. How much support from the state machine will Pallone, an old hand, get vis-a-vis a budding national star like Booker? How much pressure will national Democrats bring to bear on state bosses to throw Pallone overboard if they back him?

Speaking of neo-Obama, and per my post on Wednesday night about not trusting the other side’s motives, here’s a very young Booker casually noting that he’d ban guns if he had the power to do so. Young Obama said something similar: In 1996, when he was in his mid-30s and running for local office, he answered yes on a candidate questionnaire when asked if he supported state bans on the manufacture, sale, and possession of handguns. Twelve years later and then facing a national electorate, O swore up and down on the stump that he didn’t want to take away anyone’s guns before suddenly reverting to form and taking up a new assault-weapons ban this year. Similarly, a few weeks ago on “This Week,” Booker tore a page from Obama’s playbook with an above-the-fray answer about how the debate over gun control is “false” and how he’s not afraid of law-abiding citizens owning guns. Look for President Booker to make a run at his own version of a AWB circa 2025. Click the image to watch.

Update: Hmmmm.