Newark Mayor and U.S. Senate hopeful Cory Booker is once again parrying questions about whether he likes dudes. Is he gay? Bisexual? Completely straight? (Asexual?) The only person who knows for sure — Booker himself — refused to specify twice yesterday, first in a Washington Post profile and, in a follow-up interview, to the New Jersey Star-Ledger. It’s a weird contrast: Booker presents himself as the most open, accessible mayor in America, and an ally of gay rights, yet repeatedly dances around the question of his own sexuality, preferring to play a rope-a-dope game with anyone who would like to know.

This is Booker’s entire view of his and others’ sexual attractions:

Or, as he told the Post:

“People who think I’m gay, some part of me thinks it’s wonderful,” Booker told the interviewer, “because I want to challenge people on their homophobia. I love seeing on Twitter when someone says I’m gay, and I say, ‘So what does it matter if I am? So be it.’” [...]

“I don’t intend to answer,” said Booker, who was returning from Washington after attending a meeting with President Obama on gun violence. “It should not matter. That was my point.”

Booker has in the past admitted to struggling with others’ questions about his sexuality. In an op-ed for his college paper at Stanford, he wrote: “occasionally I still find myself acting defensive if someone thinks I am gay or sometimes I remain silent when others slam and slander. These realizations hurt me deeply.”

Still, Booker’s default supporters in the Democratic establishment are not the only ones to notice their candidate’s unwillingness to discuss his own sexuality, which Booker himself considers to be a pedestrian facet of existence. (It’s a little difficult to play up the normalcy of gayness in the abstract when you refuse to discuss it in the specific.) Indeed, for the past year or so, his sexuality, and sex life, have become topics of immense attention among GOP opposition researchers — the hired guns who dig up dirt on the opposing party’s ticket. Given his growing profile in Democratic politics, Booker makes for an especially juicy target.

A source familiar with a team of New Jersey opposition researchers working with state Republicans recently told Gawker that the team appointed a member to research the relationship between Booker and a particular male confidante (who the source wouldn’t name). The source forwarded this tweet from October 2012, which (according to the source) depicts the individual under investigation:

Of course, none of this means Cory Booker is gay, or straight, or anything else. (Or that any of the people in that photo are.) It means that his aloof responses to questions about his sexuality — as he aggressively courts support from LGBT groups for his nascent Senate campaign — have inspired the opposition to go digging. The problem with his strategic coyness is that it conveys a fear of what they might find.

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[Photo credit: AP]