By Darryl R. Isherwood | February 14th, 2013 - 5:21pm
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U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, who has made little secret of his interest in a U.S. Senate bid, said today that Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s announcement that he will not seek re-election changes the political landscape entirely.

Saying that “this is Frank’s day” Pallone would not say definitively that he will seek Lautenberg’s seat in 2014, but said he will continue to actively explore a run.

“The landscape has certainly changed, but this is Frank’s day so I don’t want to talk too much about that,” he said. “But of course I’ve said all along I’m interested in running and I’ll continue to explore it.”

Pallone has refrained from treading too far into senatorial politics out of respect for Lautenberg, but he told Democrats in December he would be interested should Lautenberg choose to step down.

Pallone has been raising money like a Senate candidate and has $3.5 million in his campaign coffers, which could be transferred to a Senate account when he officially declares.

Should Pallone decide the time is right for a bid he will face Newark Mayor Cory Booker in a primary.  Lautenberg and Booker have clashed in recent months after Booker declared his interest in running for Senate.  Several subsequent statements and moves by the Newark mayor angered Lautenberg, who last month told reporters Booker needed a “spanking” because he was acting out.

Lautenberg’s endorsement is sure to be coveted by any candidate hoping to take over his seat, but so far, the senator and his staff have been mum on who he might support as his successor.

In a statement issued after Lautenberg made his announcement, Pallone lauded the octogenarian senator's long years of hard work.

"Frank Lautenberg has been an extraordinary leader in the U.S. Senate and he has served as a moral guidepost on so many critical issues.  He has had an indelible impact on some of the most important issues facing New Jersey and our nation throughout his tenure including gun violence prevention, improving our nation’s transit systems and transportation infrastructure, making Americans healthier through anti-smoking initiatives, and rebuilding our state after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.  From his military service, to his philanthropic work, to his time in the U.S. Senate, Frank Lautenberg has defined public service and what it means to live the American dream."

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