NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Twitter is U.S. Senate candidate Cory Booker's preferred method of communication. He's often seen at public events pecking away at his phone, sending his 1.4 million followers staccato updates, inspirational quotations, shoutouts to campaign volunteers and nerdy musings on "Star Trek."
But his social media habit raised some eyebrows this week after the website Buzzfeed disclosed that he direct messaged with a stripper from Oregon.
The 44-year-old Booker, who is single, exchanged the private messages earlier this year with Lynsie Lee. She works at Casa Diablo in Portland, Ore., which bills itself as "the world's first vegan strip club."
Booker and Lee both had appeared in a documentary about using Twitter. In February, Lee wrote Booker to say the West Coast loved the Newark mayor. Booker wrote back to say the East Coast loves her, "and by the East Coast, I mean me."
"Well now I'm blushing," Lee wrote back.
"It's only fair," Booker responded.
Lee provided a screenshot of the exchange to BuzzFeed, which published a story Wednesday.
The playful exchange is typical of how Booker engages on Twitter, sending out cheeky answers to marriage proposals, responding to a man with a play on the lyrics to Jay-Z's "99 Problems," retweeting people with risque usernames and regularly asking followers to send him direct messages.
Booker brushed off the exchanges with Lee on Thursday, reiterating that he communicates with "thousands of people" on Twitter. Booker said he doesn't care what people do for work and the "puritanical judgment" of Lee was "over the top."
Booker said he talks to everybody and has no plans to stop.
"You guys might have some prurient interest," he said, "but at the end of the day this is about extending kindness to folks."
Lee told The Associated Press that the interaction was "G-rated flirting" that had been blown out of proportion. She called it a "1 out of 10" compared with some of the messages she receives.
"I flirted with him publically, as I do with a lot of people," Lee said about Booker. "There was nothing secret or sexy about it." She said she and mayor never communicated outside Twitter.
Lee said she resents any implication that she deliberately leaked the conversation for fame or money. She said a jokey, catty feud among the girls in the documentary _ all of whom, she said, had a crush on Booker _ led her to post the image.
She also had fun with her newfound political notoriety.
"If you come to see me at (at)CasaDiablo tonight, bring your wallets. I'm prime meat for the next couple of days! ;)" she tweeted Thursday.
A vegan strip club run by a long-haired guy who calls himself Johnny Diablo sounds like something out of the sketch comedy show "Portlandia," which had a cast member document his trip to the establishment earlier this year. But it's real, tucked into an isolated industrial corner of Portland.
It has a large, reasonably priced menu of vegan food, including $4 homemade taquitos and drunk bread, which is described as "Whatever bread we have toasted into Garlic Bread because you're drunk & need cheap food."
A printed sign asks dancers not to wear fur, feathers, silk, wool or leather on stage. "Thank you _ The Animals," it reads, and reminds employees to park in the lower lot.
Booker is a vegetarian, though not vegan. Lee said she's also not vegan.
Booker Republican opponent, Steve Lonegan, called the tweets another distraction in a "rather bizarre campaign of a cult personality," complaining that the issues have taken a back seat to Booker's celebrity and use of social media.
Booker joked that the fascination had to do with more than a strip club.
"I really think it's because the press corps is obsessed with vegan living," he said.
Associated Press writer Nigel Duara in Portland, Ore., and Angela Delli Santi in Trenton contributed to this report.
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