Whom will our Governor select to be our next U. S. Senator? Most likely a Republican, and he could be a conservative to appease that wing of the national party or a moderate who will not turn off Democrats and Independents from voting for the Governor in the upcoming gubernatorial election. Since 1979 New Jersey has sent only Democrats to the Senate, and in the last election the Democrat Robert Menendez won with a 19.5% spread. So whomever he appoints is likely to be a place holder or a sacrificial lamb. Former Governor Tom Kean would be a popular and respected choice, probably as a place holder, should he be interested.
Any Republican selected who also has a serious interest in running in the October election faces daunting odds. Democratic candidates have been gearing up for a Senatorial election, and Republicans lag far behind. What State legislator wants to give up his Trenton job to be a four month Senator and then have to compete with Mayor Cory Booker’s charisma and name recognition, Rep. Frank Pallone’s $2 million war chest or Rep. Rush Holt’s intellect? There is not enough time to raise the needed money or name recognition. Likewise what Republican Congressman wants to give up his Washington job when the odds of putting together a successful campaign in four months are minimal? Only Rep. Scott Garrett has over $2 million, and there is no way he would win in Blue Jersey.
There could be a State or Federal legislator who is contemplating leaving his/her position and might want to take the fling in which case on-the-job experience would be of some help. However, he or she would be better advised not give up the current paycheck, because one can still run in an August primary and October election without surrendering job security.
So whom are we left with? Someone like Kean Sr. or possibly another senior Republican statesman or respected business leader who would view it as an honor and a short-term task. For an appointee interested in the long run, there might be a Republican with extremely deep pockets who could quickly inject millions into the campaign. Or possibly someone like the popular former Senator Bill Baroni, particularly if he could get a leave of absence from the NY-NJ Port Authority.
Assumimg he gets away with it, the Governor has done a masterful job of enhancing his own gubernatorial election and messing with Sen. Buono’s prospects. With no popular Democratic senatorial candidate on the top of the November ticket the Governor helps himself and hurts Sen. Buono. Likewise he helps Republican legislators who then run under a popular governor and do not have to face the larger Democratic turn out were a Booker or Pallone on the same ballot.
For the Governor it’s a smart choice. He is sacrificing a New Jersey Republican Senatorial seat which is not very winnable anyway for the greater good (himself.) He will still find a Republican to join Sen. Mitch McConnell’s Washington team, and he will be able to boast nationally that (for at least a few months) he sent a Republican to the U. S. Senate.