Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Christie's 4 options for filling Lautenberg's seat

Gov. Christie, a Republican, gets to pick the replacement for Sen. Frank Lautenberg, the Democrat who died Sunday. Christie wouldn't talk about what he's going to do, but GOP sources are offering up several names. Bottom line: He could go in three general directions.

Christie's 4 options for filling Lautenberg's seat


Gov. Christie, a Republican, gets to pick the replacement for Sen. Frank Lautenberg, the late Democrat. My colleague Jonathan Tamari explain the circumstances behind the appointment -- including the legal questions about when the election should be -- in our article in Tuesday's paper

Here's my continually updated list about whom Christie might choose. As I see it, he could go in four general directions.

1) A Republican: This is the most likely scenario -- and the safest option. Christie has a big lead in his re-election this year and is popular among Democrats. It is not clear that Democrats in New Jersey would punish Christie for filling a Democratic seat with a Republican. Maybe they would expect it. Here are the options:


  • State Sen. Tom Kean: Son and namesake of the popular former governor, Kean ran for senate before.
  • State Sen. Joe Kyrillos: A long-time friend of Christie's, often considered his closest friend in the Legislature, Kyrillos unsuccessfully ran for senate last year.
  • Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno: Christie's running mate for his re-election could be swapped out of the ticket. She's the most prominent female Republican he could choose.
  • State Sen. Diane Allen: The Burlington County Republican is a moderate who ran for senate before. But that would mean she would drop out of her re-election run, leaving a swing seat vulnerable to capture by a Democrat.
  • State Sen. Jennifer Beck: The selection of this moderate pro-choice Republican woman may boost Christie's standing among New Jersey Democratic women in this re-election year, but could hurt his national Republican profile.
  • State Sen. Kevin O'Toole: The increasingly high-profile legislator is the son of a Korean mother, and would be the most prominent non-white Republican on Christie's list of choices.
  • Assemblyman Jon Bramnick: The top Republican in the Assembly, Bramnick doesn't have the same name recognition as other Republican legislators.
  • Assemblyman Jay Webber: If Christie wants to win a 2016 Republican primary, this pick of one of New Jersey's most conservative elected officials would be a feather in the gov's cap among conservatives.
  • Congressmen Rodney Frelinghuysen, Frank LoBiondo, Leonard Lance, Jon Runyan or Chris Smith: Any of these men could slide down the hall, forego their 2014 re-election campaigns, and add "US Senator" to their resumes. 
  • Bill Baroni: The deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey is a former legislator and Christie loyalist who once tangled with Lautenberg in Congress. 
  • Rich Bagger: Christie's former chief-of-staff was a long-time state legislator who is now a pharmaceutical executive. Would he leave the private sector for another sting in public service?


2) A placeholder: Christie could choose someone with gravitas who vows not to run in the special election but just keeps the seat warm until someone is duly elected.


  • Former Gov. Tom Kean: Christie's political mentor is the state's most popular former governor and is respected nationally for chairing the 9/11 Commission. His name could also pave the way for his son, State Sen. Tom Kean Jr., should he choose to run for the seat.
  • Bill Palatucci: The chairman of Christie's re-election campaign could, one source said, fill the seat as an extension of the governor. He would also fill his Rolodex before the 2016 presidential campaign, when Christie could be a candidate.
  • Jon Hanson: A fundraiser for Christie who is the former chairman of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, Hanson is a Christie advisor who could be trusted to fill the seat for a temporary period of time without harboring further ambitions.


3) A Democrat: This is the least likely scenario. Putting a Democrat in the fractured U.S. Senate would hurt Christie's chances in a 2016 Republican presidential primary. But he could sell it as a way of fulfilling the wishes of voters, who made that seat Democratic, and it would certainly boost his bipartisan street cred in advance of his re-election this November.


  • Newark Mayor Cory Booker: The supermayor's candidacy for Lautenberg's old seat is all-but declared. He was the front-runner to succeed Lautenberg before his death, and he's been a friend and collaborator of Christie's.
  • Congressman Frank Pallone: Also considering a bid for senate is this congressman, although there's no reason why Christie would choose him over Booker if he went in the Democratic direction.
  • State Sen. Bob Gordon: A veteran legislator from Bergen County with a Republican wife who supports Christie, this would be a relatively uncontroversial pick. Relatively.
4) Outside the box wildcards: Christie, who sometimes like the play the part of the iconoclast, could tap someone with fame and deep pockets. The ability to self-finance would be a plus, allowing state Republican coffers to be used toward Christie's re-election and the legislative campaigns.

  • Woody Johnson: The owner of the Jets hangs out with Christie at Jets games and has been rumored to consider a run in the past. However, his team is now suing the state over a sports gambling bill, so....awkward.
  • John Crowley: This wealthy biotech executive with a compelling personal story was in the past considered a possible candidate against both Lautenberg and, later, Sen. Robert Menendez.
  • Al Leiter: The former Mets and Yankees pitcher is a Republican and Toms River native who has talked about running as a Republican in the past.
  • Lou Dobbs: This conservative personality has name recognition and a hard-line stance on immigration that would address one of Christie's soft spots within the national party.
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