While conflicting, state statutes give Gov. Chris Christie potent arguments to make to schedule the statewide election for U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg's (D-NJ) seat on a date other than this year's November gubernatorial election.
Tasked to succeed Senator Lautenberg, the governor's choice can remain in the seat until a special election of the governor’s choosing, potentially as late as November of 2014, according to one reading of state law.
The short list of potential GOP successors to Senator Lautenberg includes the following:
State Senator Joe Kyrillos (R-13)
The Chris Christie loyalist and well-liked former state GOP Chairman ran statewide last year against U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). Defeated in a year that saw President Obama win the state by 18 points, Kyrillos also had the bad luck of having to run through Hurricane Sandy, which disabled his headquarters in the lead-up to Election Day and seemed to dampen turnout in his badly damaged Monmouth base.
Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno
Gov. Chris Christie’s LG has run statewide before, in 2009, and has spent the last three and a half years very politically active. She is the New Jersey Republican Party’s most visible woman and is well-regarded for her tireless backing of the gov's policies.
Tom Kean, Sr.
New Jersey's former Governor is a natural choice in some party establishment circles. Proponents of the pick make the case for gravitas and say Democrats will get no traction calling him a partisan who violates the voters’ will to have a Democrat in the seat.
State Senator Tom Kean, Jr. (R-21)
He ran once before, against Menendez in 2006. His father was Christie’s political mentor and still has substantial clout with the party and considerable respect. Alleged friction between Senator Kean and the Governor may stall this path, but they've been helpful to one another in the past.
Senator Kevin O'Toole (R-40)
Christie's mechanic in the state senate has relationships statewide - in both parties. He's very close to Christie and also has strong ties to powerful Democrats in his home county of Essex.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21)
The affable Christie loyalist has been a trusted ally of the governor’s in the Legislature and is popular in establishment Republican Party circles.
The former state Senator from the 14th District was a rising star in GOP circles when he was tapped by the governor as the new deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. A tireless campaigner, Baroni is a moderate with union support and unlike some of the names above doesn't have a statewide loss on his record.
Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26)
The former state party chair is said to be very interested. Hungry, Webber also has a track record as an intense competitor and bucked the odds in 2007 to win his assembly seat. The assemblyman's strong credentials as a conservative could conceivably help Christie on the national 2016 stage in a Republican Primary.
An outside-the-box choice, Palatucci’s name nevertheless surfaced early today as a potential choice. A Republican National Committeeman, Palatucci has strong national GOP ties and has been at the heart of Christie’s torrid fundraising effort. The downside to the Christie confidante is little to nonexistent name recognition among the electorate. Palatucci was recently hired by power law firm Gibbons P.C.
Christie will likely appoint a Republican to the seat for obvious reasons, sources from both parties say. However, the state has not elected a Republican to the seat since Clifford Case's last election in 1972, so Christie's choice will no doubt have staunch opposition.
While Newark Mayor Cory Booker is the favorite to run on the Democratic ticket against the governor's selection, he may have some primary opposition.
As of right now, the four possible Democratic candidates are:
Mayor Cory Booker
The general election frontrunner in any equation, the Newark mayor has made his intent to succeed Lautenberg clear even as he still plays coy with a formal announcement. He has star power and fundraising ability to match Christie’s and with national money flowing in and off-the-charts name recognition, he’d be tough to beat.
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone
The veteran congressman from the 6th District has the biggest campaign warchest in Congress and the ambition to be a U.S. Senator. He continues to maintain a vigorous political schedule and is regularly glimpsed in Essex, Bergen and Hudson counties.
U.S. Rep. Holt
The 12th District representative jumped into the fray earlier this year when Lautenberg announced he would not seek re-election. The cerebral congressman who once competed on Jeopardy is stting on about $800,000 in cash, but though he has served 13 years in the House, his name recognition would likely be low with voters outside his district. A research physicist, Holt is a deliberative lawmaker who could fit in well in the upper chamber.
Speaker Sheila Oliver
The 34th District assemblywoman has a strong base of support in her hometown of East Orange and has expressed displeasure at the notion of a Booker coronation.
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