Unless a miracle takes place this Tuesday and Republicans in LD1, LD3, and LD4 pull off major upsets, South Jersey party boss, George Norcross, will have more than enough votes to replace his primary adversary in the Assembly, Majority Leader Joe Cryan, with his top ally in the legislative body, Louis Greenwald, sending Cryan to the back bench.
What remains to be seen, however, is what Cryan will do once he is sent there. Will he unite with his fellow back bencher in the Senate, Dick Codey, to build an opposition movement that will contend not only for the Governor’s office in 2013, but also all 120 legislative seats? As much as I would love to see this, I do not expect that this will happen. It is very possible that Dick Codey will run for Governor in 2013, but it is also possible that Cory Booker, Barbara Buono, and Steve Sweeney will run as well and it is unlikely that any of them will run opposition slates against the party lines that they do not win, which means that regardless of who wins the gubernatorial primary, there will not be much change in the legislative roster or its leadership.
If I am right about this, then Cryan will most likely remain on the back bench for most of the next decade. That is, unless he finds a new office for which to run or that office finds him. There have been times in the past decade when Cryan expressed an interest in running for Congress in the 7th district, but admitted that the current configuration of the district made it extremely difficult for a Democrat to win.
This is very true. Our best chance to win this district came in 2006 when a very popular Assemblywoman, Linda Stender, challenged a very unpopular Congressman Mike Ferguson in a year that Democrats were trending up and Republicans were trending down. However, despite these trends, Stender came a few thousand votes short of victory. Two years later, Stender did not run as strong of a campaign as she did in 2006 and faced a very popular State Senator, Leonard Lance. Despite huge turnout increases inspired by Barack Obama’s candidacy, it was not enough for a Democrat to win the 7th and Lance defeated Stender by a much wider margin than Ferguson did two years earlier.
However, it is now 2011, and the Congressional Redistricting Commission is in the process of putting together a new congressional district map with the challenge of reducing the number of districts in our state from 13 to 12. Obviously, this process is rife with complimentary and conflicting agendas. However, if George Norcross has any interest in helping to get his top antagonist out of the State Assembly, he has one of his most loyal acolytes, Joe Roberts, in the perfect position as co-chair of the CRC to make it happen.
When I recently played with Dave’s Redistricting App, I came up with a new congressional map that not only reduced the delegation by one, but also created four open seats. Three of these open seats would be in Republican-leaning districts, but one of them, which recreates the old 7th District that became very competitive when Congressman Bob Franks vacated it to run for the U.S. Senate in 2000, would be a tossup. My new 7th district consists of all of Union County (except Elizabeth), NW Middlesex County (Dunellen, Edison, Piscataway, and South Plainfield), and Northern Somerset County (Bedminster, Bernardsville, Bernards Township, Far Hills, Green Brook, North Plainfield, Warren, and Watchung). I think that this would be a district in which Joe Cryan would be very comfortable to run.
Mind you, it would not be a slam dunk for him by any stretch of the imagination as Union County without Elizabeth becomes far more competitive, and the Democratic advantage that the Middlesex County towns would provide would be offset by the Republican advantage that the Somerset County towns would provide. It would also be interesting to see if Cryan would face a primary election challenge from former Edison Mayor, Jun Choi, who announced an interest to run in the 7th months ago, regardless of its future configuration, or past Congressional contender, Linda Stender.
Also if both Cryan and Stender were in the race, Assemblyman Peter Barnes III, whose father is the Middlesex County Chairman, could try to take advantage of a divided Union County primary electorate by running as well and possibly winning the line in Somerset County, which would most likely not produce a favorite daughter/son candidate. Barnes could probably get Choi out of the race and avoid a division of his own county by promising him his Assembly seat if he became Congressman.
If Cryan ran unopposed or survived a primary election against Barnes and/or Choi and/or Stender, he would most likely face Republican Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, who should not have a hard time defeating perennial candidate, Scotch Plains Mayor Martin Marks and/or any Tea Party-aligned candidate that came out of the woodwork. With a Presidential race spurring turnout on both sides, a Bramnick-Cryan general election contest in this highly competitive district could become the focus of the entire state, possibly trumped only by a Rush Holt-Leonard Lance or Rush Holt-Chris Smith battle in the new 12th District that I created, which consists of all of Hunterdon and Mercer Counties and the remainder of Somerset County.
Both the Democratic and Republican establishments in New Jersey have a stake in creating these new districts as it would enable George Norcross to help one of his top antagonists in Trenton move to Washington, while giving Republicans more competitive seats to contend for over the next decade, especially during lower turnout years. Also, by creating Republican-leaning open seats, even at the expense of Republican incumbents who are not named Frank LoBiondo, the Republican establishment could appease Tea Party Republicans in their midst by giving them numerous Congressional seats for which they can contend.
Will this perfect storm of interests create an opportunity for Joe Cryan to get out of Trenton and avoid a decade of intra-party battles and/or irrelevance? What do you think?