New Jersey Democrats Mull Future of Rush Holt Seat

As eight-term Rep. Rush D. Holt announced on Tuesday his retirement from Congress, New Jersey Democrats looked to the future of his seat. Like all races in New Jersey, any contender will need the support of the state's political machine. Typically, a party nominee is decided in the backrooms of New Jersey politics, but a flood of names surfaced as operatives digested the surprise Holt announcement. At least one New Jersey Democratic operative hoped that the retirement would translate into a female addition to the delegation. Party operatives named a handful of state legislators as possible contenders. They mentioned Assemblywomen Bonnie Watson Coleman and Linda Stender; Assemblymen Daniel R. Benson, Wayne P. DeAngelo, Jerry Green, Reed Gusciora and Upendra J. Chivukula; and state Sens. Shirley K. Turner and Linda Greenstein. Watson Coleman is a former state party chairwoman. Greenstein moved quickly Tuesday afternoon, telling The Newark Star-Ledger that she will run for the seat. Beyond the state Capitol, Democrats pointed to Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes and former Edison Mayor Jun Choi. Choi's name was previously floated for the 6th District in the event Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. won the 2013 Senate special election. In 2011, prior to redistricting, national Democrats touted Choi as a challenger to Republican Rep. Leonard Lance. Despite the nearly dozen names mentioned, New Jersey primaries are not free-for-alls. State county parties will determine a highly preferential placement for endorsed candidates on the June 3 primary ballot. The four counties in the district are: Mercer County, Somerset County, Union County and Middlesex County. But some Democrats suggested that the open-seat race in a safely Democratic district presents an opportunity to diversify the Garden State's delegation. "This is our opportunity to elect a woman," a plugged-in male New Jersey Democratic operative said. For the past 10 years, this has been an all-male delegation. The most recent New Jersey woman to serve in Congress was Republican former Rep. Marge Roukema and she left office in 2003, according to Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics. It has been 35 years since a female Democrat served in the delegation, dating back to former Rep. Helen Stevenson Meyner. In total, New Jersey was home to five former female representatives. Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard, a Democrat, is seeking retiring Republican Rep. Jon Runyan's 3rd District. It is a tossup race, so her election is not assured. State Democratic Party Chairman John Currie kept his cards close to the vest in a Tuesday statement. "I look forward to talking to prospective candidates that are interested in running in Congressman's Holt's district, understanding that he leaves big shoes to fill," he said.