Standing in front of his Haddon Heights home at 11am this morning, and surrounded by what he admitted was a hastily-assembled group of supporters, Rob Andrews announced he will give up his seat in Congress representing NJ’s 1st Congressional District, and challenge Jon Corzine for his party’s nomination for Governor.
From his statement:
I did not intend, or plan, to challenge my Governor in the primary process. I do so with regret, and respect. But New Jersey needs fresh stewardship, and new ideas. I have decided that I will place my name and my credentials before the people of New Jersey to serve as their new Governor. The people of New Jersey deserve to choose their governor. With respect for Governor Corzine and his public service, I will offer them that choice in this historic year of change, of challenge and of opportunity.
The news was a surprise, even for Andrews, who made headlines – and not a few enemies – with an unexpected primary challenge to Senator Frank Lautenberg, just days after promising the entire NJ Democratic delegation that he would not. The acrimonious nature of the race, including repeated references to the incumbent’s age (Lautenberg was 84, Andrews 50) forced Democrats to take sides. Most sided with the eventual winner, Lautenberg, but the process may have further alienated South Jersey Democrats from their counterparts further north. It also damaged Andrews’ credibility quotient, with wife Camille Andrews accused of merely keeping his seat warm for him in the event of his failure to capture the nomination from Lautenberg. When he lost, badly, to his elder, he did indeed return to that seat he swore he was done with.
Last year’s race was largely seen as Andrews’ test-run at a real state-wide campaign this year, but after a crushing defeat by a Senator he had made out to be, well, addled and well past his prime, the conventional wisdom was that he’d learned a lesson, and would live to fight another day.
A day perhaps come rather sooner than is convenient for Corzine. It’s a bad time to be an incumbent governor with the economy – state and national – in the shape it’s in. And that has been reflected in bad polling news for the Governor.
A trio of state Senators introduced Andrews to the group; Ray Lesniak, Joe Vitale and Bob Smith, who were in turn brought to the microphone by Asm John Wisniewski. Newark Democratic powerbroker Steve Adubato was there but did not speak. SJ Democratic Chairs Beach, Angelini and Perr and Norcross were also not called to the microphone. Today’s announcement is seen as another sharp challenge to the balance of power by Norcross.
Barbara Buono, who endorsed Andrews last year, was not there. She is rumored to be on Corzine’s shortlist for Lieutenant Governor. Democratic heavy-hitters who endorsed Andrews in ’08, but were missing from this morning’s announcement, included included Majority Leader Steve Sweeney, and Speaker Joe Roberts. Andrews mentioned both in his remarks, expressing deep respect, and that both had been informed late last night of his intentions.
Andrews’ track record over the last year is widely seen as hubris, over-reaching and a notable failure of an ascendant South Jersey politician to capture the Senate seat in the name of the power structure in South Jersey. There was considerable resentment inside the Democratic Party, but particularly inside the Democratic Congressional delegation, with Pascrell and Pallone the most vocal.
Andrews briefly flirted last year with the possibility of leaving politics altogether and going to Goldman Sachs which, ironically, Corzine used to run. But now, the loss of support among his House colleagues – not to mention what Lautenberg may think of him – may be a factor in Andrews’ choice to switch playing fields entirely, and compete with an incumbent Governor struggling with a national economy in freefall, a mountain of inherited state debt, and a likely challenger, Chris Christie, who fashions himself a heroic corruption-buster.