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How the special election shapes the NJ Senate race

WASHINGTON -- National Democrats have to be happy. National Republicans are not. Cory Booker might have a tougher run, and New Jersey's Congressmen are off to the races.

How the special election shapes the NJ Senate race

Frank Lautenberg and Chris Christie
Frank Lautenberg and Chris Christie

WASHINGTON -- National Democrats have to be happy. National Republicans are not. Cory Booker might have a tougher run, and New Jersey's Congressmen are off to the races.

Here is a look at the implications of Gov. Christie's plans for a special primary election Aug. 13 and general election Oct. 16 to fill Sen. Frank Lautenberg's seat:

-- Democrats have to be happy.
The decision means that they are in strong position to hold onto the Senate seat, and that Republicans will likely only grab hold of it for only a few months, unless the GOP can reverse more than 40 years of electoral history.

More coverage
 
Frank Pallone throws hat into ring
 
Why special election is good for Christie
 
Christie sets election for Lautenberg seat

New Jersey is still a deep blue state, especially on national issues, which is why voters there haven’t elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972. That means that in any election, Democrats are going to be favored.

They’ll now get to take advantage of that edge in October, rather than waiting until Nov. of next year – which would have let a Christie appointee gain name recognition, raise money, build a resume and, crucially, deprive Senate Democrats of a vote in the Senate (assuming Christie appoints a Republican).

“Republicans have not won a Senate race in New Jersey in more than 40 years,” said Matt Canter, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Their only shot was an appointee who had a year and a half to establish themselves before an election in 2014. With this news I assume operatives at the NRSC are busy planning Christie’s defeat in Iowa and New Hampshire right now.”

Add in the fact that Democrats have Cory Booker already running a campaign (for all intents and purposes) and other House members already exploring a bid, and they have a crop of candidates ready to run right now.

Republicans, meanwhile, will have to rush to get campaigns up and running and no one in the Jersey GOP stable, save maybe Tom Kean Sr., will be able to hope to match Booker for name recognition.

With a 2014 race, Republicans could have snatched away a safe Democratic seat for more than a year, and groomed a candidate to perhaps pull off an upset. With an election this November, maybe they could have latched onto Christie’s coattails and won the normally safe Democratic seat.

An October election gives Republicans none of those advantages.

Now, they'll have a long, hard road to winning a special election that will probably draw a small electorate in a heavily Democratic state.

Democrats didn’t get all they could want – the best-case scenario for them would have been a Nov. 2013 Senate race, which could have put Booker on the ticket and possibly boosted Democratic turnout in the bid to unseat Christie. So state-level Democrats are angry and threatening to take the decision to court.

But for the party overall -- whose national leaders have to know unseating Christie is a long shot and that losing a safe Senate seat would be devastating -- this is a development they’ll take with a smile.

-- House members, start your engines.
For Congressmen like Frank Pallone, Rush Holt and Rob Andrews, running for senate in 2014 came with a huge risk – they’d have to give up their safe House seats. Now, they can jump into the 2013 race without that concern.

Pallone is already planning to run, according to a Democratic source.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, from North Jersey, said he’s “not going to entertain the idea this week,” as he concentrates on Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s legacy, but added, “yes, I have thought about it.”

Andrews today took himself out of the running – “I am totally focused on my responsibilities to help my constituents and my country in the House … I will not be a candidate for the US Senate seat,” he said in a statement.

Holt is believed to be seriously considering a run.

State-level politicos also have an easier path toward running.

Don’t expect anyone to make a formal announcement until at least after Lautenberg’s funeral – Wednesday – and likely longer. He’ll be buried Friday.

But with an election set for Aug. 13, potential candidates won’t be able to wait long.

-- Booker’s ride gets a little tougher
Booker, with his name recognition and prodigious fund-raising skills, is still the big favorite to replace Lautenberg. But the scenario outlined above means he’s much more likely to face a primary challenge now than he would have been if the race was in 2014.

He’ll also have much less time to raise money and build what would have surely been a sizable financial advantage if he had more than a year to raise funds.

"What I think that means is that Democrats face a potentially ugly primary," said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring. "The person who's probably most upset is Cory Booker."

- Expect a narrow electorate
Who votes in an August election? Pascrell asked off the House floor.

It’s hard enough to normally get voters to turn out for regular primaries. Now, there are two elections set at unusual times – August and October.

Expect an electorate made up of only the most politically involved voters, meaning a relatively narrow band of die-hards could determine the outcome in the August primaries.

For someone like Pallone, a longtime party stalwart, that may help counter Booker’s more widespread appeal. The vote will come down to people already likely to be highly involved in Democratic politics and fewer average voters who are much more likely to have heard of Booker than any Congressman.

Jonathan Tamari
About this blog

Jonathan Tamari is the Inquirer’s Washington correspondent. He writes about the lawmakers, politics and policy that affect Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Tamari previously covered the Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL. Before that he worked in Trenton, reporting on the characters and color of New Jersey state government. He lives in Washington.

Reach Jonathan at jtamari@phillynews.com.

Jonathan Tamari
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