With 24 GOP U.S. Senate seats up for grabs in 2016, vs. only 10 Democratic seats, the Republicans will be scrapping for every one, hoping to retain their majority. If Senator Menendez is forced to leave prematurely, they will be no less dedicated to that 25th seat, whether it is in a special election or during the normal 2016 cycle.
There’s another important factor in play here: whom Governor Christie appoints as an interim Senator until an election is held. He could appoint a placeholder, as he did when he rewarded loyalist Jeff Chiesa after the death of Senator Lautenberg, or he could appoint a person who would stand for election for the remainder of Menendez’s term.
What are the characteristics of the man or woman the GOP would like to see fill that seat?
First and foremost, the candidate would have to be wealthy. The GOP donor base, as humungous as it is, would have to cover two dozen candidates. A candidate who can self-finance would be extremely attractive, especially in the nation’s most expensive media market.
Republicans would also have to grit their teeth and select someone who can be perceived as a moderate. Right wing zealots like Steve Lonegan or even Jay Webber would have a difficult time winning in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans and there are even vestiges of “moderate” Republicans around.
Ideally, the GOP would like to choose someone who does not have a long voting record. Someone who doesn’t have to defend a lot of votes that cater to the wealthy and ignore the middle class.
Finally, they would need to find someone who bridges the North Jersey vs South Jersey divide. Even though the south only has about 30% of the voters, if a Republican is to be victorious, every vote will be critical.
One person who meets all these criteria is insurance profiteer turned Congressman Tom MacArthur.
He is certainly wealthy. He spent $5 million of his own money to buy the House seat he now occupies. Cory Booker raised $17 million for his Senate race, and MacArthur can easily write himself a check for that amount or more. This makes his candidacy very attractive to the national GOP, who would then be able to allocate more money to their crop of anti-science, pro-pollution candidates elsewhere.
During his congressional campaign, MacArthur convincingly painted himself as a moderate, even though he’s against same-sex marriage and for off-shore drilling in the Atlantic. He has the knack to sound sincere when he is twisting the facts. For example, he snookered the AARP into believing he’s for maintaining Social Security, but he never mentions the fact that he only includes current recipients in his position here. No doubt, if and when the time comes, he will vote to divert retirement funds from younger generations into more risky Wall Street managed investments. But he has successfully depicted the perception that he’s a moderate on this issue.
MacArthur’s voting record is short, but he did vote to decouple the funding of the Department of Homeland Security from the GOP’s draconian immigration issue. Not voting with his extremist colleagues here gives him the ability to tout his “moderate” credentials state-wide.
And representing a South Jersey district while living in North Jersey, at least until his daughter graduates from high school, gives MacArthur state-wide creds.
MacArthur is a well-versed speaker. He exudes sincerity, even when he is twisting the truth. He is adept at running a dirty campaign (his congressional campaign literature was negative from the outset) which will be necessary to win a GOP seat in New Jersey. Despite his relatively recent foray into elected politics, don’t count him out. In fact, that, along with his vast wealth may be just what the GOP is looking for.