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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