First of all, Senator Bob Menendez might not even be indicted. Leaks out of the Justice Department have been notoriously unreliable since Chris Christie resigned as U.S. Attorney in 2008.
If Menendez is indicted, he probably will not resign. In his press conference this evening, the Senator defiantly insisted on the “appropriateness and lawfulness” of his relationship with Dr. Salomon Melgen, the Florida ophthalmologist who is Menendez’s friend and benefactor. He declared that he is not going anywhere.
If, as CNN speculates, Menendez is charged with corruption this month, it could be Halloween before he goes to trial. Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was indicted in January of 2014. His trial didn’t start until late July and didn’t end to early September. Unless Menendez makes a deal to avoid prosecution that includes his resignation, there is not likely to be a Special Election to fill the Senate seat until next year….2016, the year of the next presidential election.
If Chris Christie is still Governor in 2016 and Menendez’s seat becomes vacant, he will get to choose the next Senator and set the date a special election. There could be a mid-year Special Election or the Special Election could be on the same day as the presidential election. There’s no way to know now what is likely to happen.
Still, the prospect of a Senatorial vacancy stirs speculation and the phone lines among both Democrats and Republicans have been burning this afternoon since the news of the
possible prosecution broke.
On the Republican side, unless Christie appoints a temporary Republican Senator who will run for the seat, unlike what he did in 2013 when he appointed his close friend and State Attorney General Jeff Chiesa as a place holder for Cory Booker to assume the late Senator Frank Lautenberg’s office, there will be a primary.
In the unlikely event Menendez’s seat becomes vacant this year, any of 12 New Jersey members of congress, six from each party, could run for the Senate seat and not risk their safe jobs in the House of Representatives. If a Special Election is held in the spring or summer of next year and not during the general election in November, members of congress could still run without risking their House seats.
Possible Republican candidates:
Members of Congress:
Freshman Congressman Tom MacArthur could finance his own campaign. The other five Republican congressmen are probably too comfortable where they are, and with the power that they have in the majority, to take on a statewide campaign for a seat that has not been won by a Republican since 1972.
If there was a Special Election called today and the GOP wanted to make a race for the seat from its “current bench”, these would be the top candidates in the mix:
Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno. As of now, Guadagno and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnik are jockeying for position to be the next GOP gubernatorial nominee. Both are closely tied to Christie, which in the current environment is a liability. A Menendez vacancy would allow both Guadagno and Bramnik to seek statewide office without competing with each other.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnik. See above.
State Senator Joe Kyrillos. Kryillos ran against Menendez in 2012 and probably doesn’t have the fortitude to launch another statewide race. Despite losing to Menendez in a Superstorm Sandy interrupted election with no expected coattails from Mitt Romney, Kyrillos earned more votes than Christie did in both of his gubernatorial elections. Still, turnout is everything and Kyrillos would probably not opt to run in a presidential year, unless Christie appoints him to the seat.
State Senator Tom Kean Jr. Kean ran against Menendez in 2006. He has to be on any list of potential statewide Republican candidates because his name is Tom Kean.
The Next Generation:
Assemblyman Jay Webber. “The future of the Republican Party,” according to Governor Christie before the two had a falling out. Christie’s first NJ GOP Chairman is young, smart and ambitious. A graduate of Johns Hopkins and Harvard Law, the father of six was recently named to The Reagan Ranch Board of Governors and scored former Vice President Dick Cheney to be the keynote speaker at the New Jersey Reagan Day Dinner, an annual tradition Webber started.
Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande. Casagrande wants to serve in Washington. Like Webber, she is conservative but not a crazy unrelatable zealot. First elected in 2007 weeks before her 31st birthday, Casagrande was the youngest woman ever elected to the Assembly. The mother of two boys is a creative policy wonk and engaging public speaker. If she can raise money, she can be a compelling statewide candidate.
Mega Bucks Candidates
County Chairmen of both parties always dream of super rich candidates who want to buy a national office and spread their money around to local races. MacArthur is the only Republican who has done so successfully in recent years. Doug Forrester spent a fortune losing to Frank Lautenberg for Senate in 2002 and to Jon Corzine for Governor in 2005.
Jets owner Woody Johnson and bio-tech entrepreneur John Crowley are frequently mentioned as potential candidates but have never pulled the trigger. Venture capitalist Scott Sipprelle ran a spirited race against Rush Holt in the 12th congressional district in 2010 but seems to have inoculated himself from the political bug.
The 2014 also rans
In 2014 the Republican establishment decided that Senator Cory Booker was invisible, and left the nomination open for bright eyed candidates with limited experience to compete for a chance to catch lightening in a bottle.
Jeff Bell lost to Booker and moved back to Washington. Brian Goldberg and Rich Pezzullo lost in the primary to Bell, but have remained active and engaged. Goldberg founded the Empowerment PAC after his primary loss and issued a press release today calling for Menendez to resign.
Now that he is ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Frank Pallone may be satisfied to serve another 5 or 10 terms in the House in the hopes that the Democrats regain the majority and that he becomes a powerful committee chairman. Pallone was stung by his loss to Booker in the 2013 Special Primary. Count on him to play it safe now that he is safely ensconced in the House Democratic leadership. Pallone’s campaign kitty is down to a paltry half million dollars. After hording millions in campaign cash for decades in the hopes to moving up to the Senate, Pallone seems to have slowed down his fund raising efforts.
Rush Holt also lost to Booker in the 2013 primary and decided to retire from congress. Now the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Executive Publisher of the Science family of journals, Holt still has a modest $85K in his federal campaign accounts.
Freshman Congressman Donald Norcross is a former union leader who has had a meteoric political career. He served in the State Assembly for five days in 2010 before being tabbed to succeed Dana Redd in the State Senate after she became Mayor of Camden. Last November Norcross took over Rob Andrews’ seat in the House of Representatives after Andrews resigned amid an ethics scandal involving using campaign cash for personal expenses. The secret to Norcross’s success? His brother is George Norcross, the South Jersey Democratic power broker, insurance zillionaire and puppet master of Trenton.
Phil Murphy of Middletown is the Grand Marshall of Rumson’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Sunday. Retired from Goldman Sachs with zillions in 2003, Murphy served as Ambassador to Germany from 2009 until 2013. As National Finance Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2006 to 2008, Murphy raised over $300 million. A generous philanthropist and leader of local and national charities, Murphy is ramping up to compete with Senate President Steve Sweeney and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop in the next New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial primary. If Menendez’s seat in the Senate becomes available, Murphy will be tempted (and encouraged) to move to Washington instead of Drumthwacket.