Rating Change: LoBiondo Retirement Makes GOP Seat More Vulnerable

GOP Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s retirement gives Democrats a better opportunity to win New Jersey’s 2nd District.

Democrats have had their eye on the South Jersey seat for years, particularly after President Barack Obama won the seat by 8 points in 2012. But the party has struggled to find a credible candidate against the congressman, considering his connection with organized labor.

But now that the seat is open, there is no guarantee the GOP nominee will be able to put together a similar coalition. At the same time, Donald Trump carried the 2nd District by nearly 5 points while he lost by more than a dozen points statewide. And Democrat Cory Booker lost the 2nd District to Republicans in both the 2013 (53-46 percent) and 2014 (50-47 percent) Senate elections, according to Daily Kos Elections.

Potential Democratic candidates include state Sen. Jeff Van Drew (who Democrats have been trying to get to run for years) and retired state Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten. Potential Republican candidates include Assemblyman Chris Brown (who is on the ballot today for state senate), Atlantic County Sheriff Frank Balles, and Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, who is up for re-election today as well.

The dust isn’t even close to settled on the potential candidates fields, so it’s unclear how great of a takeover opportunity this is for Democrats. But it’s better than it was this morning when LoBiondo was running for re-election. We’re changing the Inside Elections rating from Solid Republican to Lean Republican.

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Ryan speaks with his chief of staff, John David Hoppe, following the Senate GOP's policy luncheon last week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 6:02 p.m. | Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s initial staff is a mix of longtime confidants of the Wisconsin Republican, experienced Washington lobbyists and a contingent of former Speaker John A. Boehner’s aides.  

A CQ Roll Call analysis of the work experience of the 22 staffers confirmed as part of the new speaker’s team shows many have spent considerable time in other congressional offices. There’s a cumulative 48 years with former Speaker John A. Boehner during his 24-year tenure on Capitol Hill. The staffers have accumulated 38 years working with Ryan.  

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McConnell walks with Soderstrom. (Bill Clark, CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Dan Coats wishes he had been able to do more with the all-star staff he assembled more than two decades ago, given the sphere of influence two of them now occupy in the top echelons of Congress.  

The Indiana Republican's staff leader in the early '90s was Dave Hoppe, who just returned to the Capitol as chief of staff to Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis. Hoppe in turn hired Sharon Soderstrom for Coats' team. She’s now chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.