For the first time in more than 30 years, there will likely be a Republican senator from New Jersey.
But unless New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, pulls a rabbit out of the hat, it’s likely that Republicans will have the seat only briefly — from six months to as long as a year and a half, depending on what Christie does and how the state law is interpreted.
The death of Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., marks the end of an era and starts a series of political events over the next 17 months. Christie will choose a senator to serve until this November or next November, depending on what the governor and courts decide.
Christie could choose a moderate Republican and narrow the Democrats’ Senate majority to 54-46. He could even choose a Democratic or political independent, in theory, which could strengthen Christie’s image in the Garden State.
But that kind of a selection would open up Christie to strong attacks from the right should he run for president, giving himself something else to worry about in Republican presidential primaries. And yet, it seems unlikely that he would appoint someone conservative enough to satisfy conservatives in the state or around the country.
Handicapping any appointment is almost pointless since the decision is made by such a small group of people, in this case Christie and small group of close advisers. But because of Christie’s re-election race this fall and his potential 2016 presidential run, his choice becomes significantly more important for him. It will receive considerable scrutiny.
The early list of public names includes 2006 nominee Tom Kean Jr., 2012 nominee Joe Kyrillos, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, biotechnology executive Joe Crowley (who almost ran in 2008), investor Lew Eisenberg and attorney/Christie advisor Bill Palatucci.
Regardless of whether it is a special election or regular election, Republicans remain long shots to hold the seat after an appointment. Republicans haven’t won a Senate race in New Jersey since Clifford Case was re-elected to a fourth term in 1972. Christie’s likely re-election notwithstanding, New Jersey is a blue state, not a purple state.
Since Lautenberg had already decided not to seek re-election, the Democratic dynamic doesn’t change all that match. Newark Mayor Cory Booker is already raising money and all but officially announced his candidacy. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. could run as well.
The race is obviously very fluid, but we are keeping our rating of the race as Currently Safe for the Democrats until there is significant evidence that Republicans have a shot of holding the seat in an election.