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All Eyes on Lautenberg, Booker in N.J. Speculation Game

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Lautenberg will be 89 in January, leading to speculation about his future. Many see Booker as the logical choice to run for the Senate seat, regardless of whether Lautenberg will run again, but the Newark mayor is reportedly also considering a gubernatorial bid.

Senate races are already materializing in other parts of the country, and the idea that 2014 planning can be put on hold for a year is unfeasible to some.

In an interview last week with Roll Call at the Capitol, Lautenberg seemed healthy and sharp.

The plugged-in New Jersey Democratic strategist said the senator is in strong physical and mental shape, “which is why people should not assume he’s not running.” But many still discuss the Democratic nightmare scenario with potential national implications.

Senate Democrats are playing heavily on defense in 2014. A split 50-50 Senate is not outside the realm of possibility after the midterms, and a Republican appointment could throw power to the GOP.

The rub, according to New Jersey sources, is that Senate Democratic leaders have limited leverage over Lautenberg because his seniority was not reinstated after he returned to the Senate in 2003.

Aides on Capitol Hill are reluctant to discuss the matter, saying too many hypotheticals would need to occur before leadership would be put in a bind.

Despite that reluctance, Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York endorsed Lautenberg for re-election more than a year ago. Schumer is the Senate Democratic Conference vice chairman.

“We absolutely want him to run again; we hope he continues to run for one more term,” he said in November 2011, according to Politicker NJ.

Lautenberg has faced a primary challenge before, which also adds urgency to those looking to challenge him. The biggest criticisms of Rep. Robert E. Andrews’ unsuccessful 2008 challenge of Lautenberg is that he got into the race too late.

Andrews’ offensive move also hurt relations within his delegation. It would seem to serve as a cautionary tale to others considering a play against Lautenberg. But there are a number of ambitious would-be senators in New Jersey, and the idea that stars are aligning so a Republican could be appointed to the seat is shortening the patience of many.

The conventional wisdom is that the Senate race is more winnable for a Democrat, as opposed to the gubernatorial contest. But Democrats say they are dubious that Christie’s positive ratings will hold for a full year.

Last week, a source close to Booker said the mayor is still actively considering runs for governor and for the Senate.

Booker himself echoed that on CNN’s “Starting Point” on Monday. He called Christie “vulnerable” and said a gubernatorial run is still on the table. He is expected to make a decision about that race soon.

“I will consider United States Senate as well,” Booker added. “I am trying to make the decision based on where I can make the most difference in the city I love and the state I love and the nation I pledged my life to.”

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