Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) passed away overnight on Sunday night. Senator Lautenberg was 89 when he passed. His greatest legacy, in most people's opinion, is that he was instrumental in getting smoking banned on commercial flights and raising the drinking age to 21. Senator Lautenberg, who was a veteran of World War 2, was also a staunch gun control advocate. He proposed the Lautenberg Amendment which would bar anybody who had been accused of domestic violence, including police officers and military personnel from possessing a firearm. One of his last speeches was to establish bipartisan support for gun control. Senator Lautenberg got angry at Newark Mayor (and presumptive future Senator of New Jersey) Cory Booker. Booker announced he would seek the Senate seat in 2014 before Senator Lautenberg announced his retirement. Senator Lautenberg announced he would retire prior to the 2014 election, soon after. Senator Lautenberg's passing might lead to some interesting things happening in New Jersey.
Nobody is really sure what is going to happen in New Jersey. Intuitively, you would assume that Governor Chris Christie could appoint someone to replace Lautenberg's Senate seat for the remaining year and a half before his term would have ended but state law dictates that a special election has to be held within 70 days of the general election. New Jersey Democrats might call for the special election to be held on the same day as the gubernatorial election. The Democratic party has a much stronger candidate in Cory Booker than the Republican party has for the Senate seat, even with an added bonus of a few extra months of being hand-picked by Christie. Even if they combine the two elections into one, Christie is still the heavy favorite to win re-election. Although, some strategists believe that Barbara Buono has a slightly better chance with Booker running for Senate, too.
But Christie, who is going to be re-elected, has a dificult decision to make. Despite Christie's popularity, New Jersey is still by and large a Democratic state. New Jersey voted for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by 18 points. Christie, who is looking forward to 2016, has a dilemna. If he decides to appoint a Democrat as a place-holder he would alienate his Republican primary voters in 2016. Well, unless they realize that it's a part of playing the game. More than likely, Christie will discuss his choices with the Republican party of New Jersey and various strategists. Doing this, I believe will lead him to nominte a rather weak Republican nominee/placeholder to give a stronger candidate a chance to fundraise before the special election.
Will it matter, though? Booker is a strong candidate. Much stronger than the people that are being tossed around, now. The choices are Tom Keen Jr. who lost to Robert Menendez by 9 points in 2006. Joe Kyrillos, who is friends with Christie, was once a rising star in the New Jersey's GOP. Christie did not want Kyrillos to run for the Senate in 2012 and he lost to Menendez by 19 points. Christie's lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, has had her name come up, too. Meanwhile on the Democratic side, you have Booker or Representative Frank Pallone who has been a Congressman since 1988. Pallone has turned down chances to run for Senate in the past, might decide, that now is the perfect opportunity.
Of course, if Booker is the star of the Democratic party that I think he is, then he has to run. A failure to run will delay the opportunity for him to become a Senator in 2014. Who will be the Democratic nominee in 2016, if Booker doesn't have more experience by then?