With the announcements that neither Chris Christie or Mike Ferguson will challenge Senator Frank Lautenberg in 2008, the Republicans’ chances to take that seat are very weak. This is not because Christie or Ferguson are better candidates than Senator Lautenberg — they’re not (especially Ferguson, who knows he cannot win statewide). Rather, these were the two candidates with the ability to raise the kind of money that is required for a competitive statewide contest.
Think about it: a total of $35 million went into the 2006 race between Senator Menendez and Tom Kean, Jr. Governor Corzine has spent tens of millions on his two statewide runs. The media markets are expensive and so is the field operation. Only certain people can raise this kind of money, and none of them are in this race.
Lautenberg has to be happy with this news. Just last month, Chuck Todd rated Lautenberg as the 10th most vulnerable incumbent Senator:
Despite Republicans’ dismal track record over the past 30 years, they never completely punt on Senate races here. But there’s a big difference between keeping a race technically “competitive” and actually winning.
Everyone thought Lautenberg would go into this race with an advantage, but who knew it’d be this big? The departures of Christie and Ferguson make his choice to seek re-election an even easier one. (Chuck Schumer basically confirmed that Lautenberg is running earlier this week.)
Still, others might find Lautenberg’s good fortune to be somewhat disappointing: Reps. Rob Andrews, Frank Pallone, Rush Holt, Steve Rothman, and Bill Pascrell. It’s not that they bear ill will toward their senior Senator, but they were hopeful he’d opt out of running again. They, like Menendez once did, have been building their warchests to best position themselves to move up to the Senate, and with Lautenberg’s re-election, they will likely ride the bench until 2014.
But our ambitious representatives should look on the bright side: their loss can be the House Democrats’ gain. If it becomes clear early on that their Republican challengers are merely nominal (as they were in 2006), the ‘Use It or Lose It’ campaign can be kicked into gear. In 2006, NJ candidates had less than three weeks to benefit from ‘Use It or Lose It’ — this time they can have more than three months. This will bolster candidates in New Jersey’s 7th, 5th, and 3rd districts. It will put Republicans on the defensive in a year they want to spend attacking Democratic freshman.
As with Republicans statewide, money is an extremely important qualification for Democratic candidates in these districts. In the 7th, Linda Stender lost by a point, so the DCCC and other national organizations will be back to help her. But for candidates in the 5th and 3rd where Democrats lost by 11 and 17 points, the DCCC will not be rushing to their aid. Early money from safe Democrats may be their best chance to succeed.
Luckily for them, Lautenberg is holding his seat down, and there should be plenty of money to go around. New Jersey’s Congressional Democrats should remember that they’ll have another 6 years to build their warchests, but only so much time to expand their caucus.