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It’s eight o’clock on a Sunday night in Jersey City, and for the first time this October it’s cold enough to see your breath in front of you with a deep exhale of the Hudson River air. It’s curious, given that, to see a group of a few dozen residents and visitors from neighboring towns assembled in a parking lot next to the train station—while the New York Giants are playing, no less. The workout-gear-clad mayor, Steven Fulop, is hopping up and down with his arms crossed over his chest for warmth, asking me when I think “he” will arrive.

He would be Cory Booker, who has promised to lead a campaign jog to a local ice cream parlor.

Ah, that explains the crowd.

Formerly the mayor of nearby Newark—the state’s largest urban enclave—and the only United States senator most New Jerseyans under 30 could pick out of a lineup, Booker is, it would seem, a little bit behind schedule. Not that these people care.

Booker is friends with Oprah and Spike Lee. He saves the helpless from burning buildings and puppies from untimely deaths. He shovels residents out of their driveways when it snows and tackles muggers with the graceful force of a former All-American tight end (which he is, of course). And for the past year, Booker has been in Washington, posting selfies with his fellow federal lawmakers and vowing to reform the criminal-justice system. For all anyone knows, Booker is out on the turnpike right now stopping two semi-trucks from colliding with each other through the sheer power of his charisma.

What’s more, Booker has once again found himself challenged by a Republican candidate who seems like he does not even want to win—a gold standard-obsessed former Reagan speechwriter named Jeff Bell, who has not lived in the Garden State for thirty years, is rumored to be running his campaign operation out of a hotel lobby, and whose idea of an attractive platform is to attack unmarried women for skewing left-wing because they are dependent on food stamps.

Yet Booker is actually having to put up a fight to be more than just a congressional seat-warmer.

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