A Short List of GOP Potential Replacements for New Jersey’s Bob Menendez in the (Unlikely) Event He Resigned from the U.S. Senate
Republicans are likely going to have to find a way to win their first New Jersey U.S. Senate seat since 1972. Bob Menendez is a known fighter who worked his tail off to win reelection in 2012; unless the law or his colleagues intervene, don’t expect the mounting Dominican Republican travel/prostitution allegations — however salacious — to drive him from office under his own power.
Visit MoreMonmouthMusings for an interesting discussion concerning the procedure behind a senatorial vacancy.
For now, I’m going to focus on the “who” question since, at the end of the day, Governor Chris Christie would choose a Republican replacement in the unlikely event that Bob Menendez becomes a “former” senator:
1. Jon Bramnick
The Union County Assemblyman and current GOP Minority Leader is considered by many insiders to be the most likely contender to face Frank Lautenberg (or his Democrat successor) in 2014. That makes him a leading contender should a vacancy occur in the interim.
Strengths: The charismatic, affable 60-year old Bramnick is a part-time comedian and well-liked by his colleagues. The establishment GOP appreciates his ample fundraising prowess, and the Administration values his loyalty and ability to keep the Assembly GOP caucus moving in the same direction. He’s also a socially liberal legislator and right-of-center on fiscal/economic issues, a combination which many pundits/consultants/decision makers in Trenton and other halls of power believe is an ideal fit for the blue New Jersey electorate.
Weaknesses: One biggie to note out of many strengths… he’s an ardent social liberal; it’s a double-edged sword in NJ, folks. In the past, some have even perceived Bramnick’s comments about social conservatism to be downright hostile. That means he could run into trouble in a future contested primary with a Lonegan/Doherty/[insert conservative/libertarian challenger here] and, when the general election finally arrives, experience more trouble keeping the base intact than the uniquely-skilled Christie. His name recognition is also next to nothing outside of NJGOP circles and his home district. That can be fixed, most definitely, but in an expensive state like NJ, it’s not an easy task.
2. Tom Kean, Jr.
45-year old Tom Kean, Jr. is the heir to the legacy of his uber-popular father, former Governor Tom Kean and the current leader of the Senate Republicans. There are a number of reasons to suspect he has the best claim to replace a deposed/resigning federal officeholder.
Strengths: If we’re contrasting Kean with Bramnick, the Kean name carries a lot more weight than any other besides “Christie” in the Garden State. He’s also not a strong social conservative like Bramnick but is generally perceived by the Pro-Life crowd to be less abrasive on this key issue. Kean and his father have a long-standing and close relationship with Governor Christie, and the younger Kean came closer than any other U.S. GOP Senate challenger in 2006 to winning. His opponent? Bob Menendez. I can also attest to Kean’s genuine interest in party building which has taken him to many corners of the state and helped develop meaningfully important relationships for himself.
Weaknesses: Few. Kean did run and lose as his detractors inside the party like to recall. Was it his fault? Not really… winning in New Jersey in a year like 2006 would’ve taken a bona fide miracle. And although it’s not really a “weakness” per se, Christie may not be willing to remove the Senate GOP general in a year when the NJGOP thinks they have a legitimate chance to wrestle away the upper chamber from Democrat control. Through no direct fault of Bramnick’s at all, the Assembly likely remains out of reach with the new redistricting map.
3. Joe Kyrillos
Strengths: The 53-year old Jersey Shore legislator and exceptional family man is one of Governor Christie’s closest friends in state politics (Christie introduced Kyrillos to his wife) and a Trenton power broker of sorts. Those are obviously not his only strengths, but in an attempt to distinguish him from the other potential candidates, no one else on the “short list” has a better claim to Chris Christie’s ear than Senator Joe. That’s the kind of relationship New Jersey’s hands-on Governor would want in D.C. working to represent the state’s interests during the duration of his gubernatorial tenure, particularly in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
Weaknesses: I’m just going to say it, folks, with no malice intended… Kyrillos’s 2012 Senate campaign was widely considered to be a disaster by just about everyone in state politics who shares opinions on such things. In Kyrillos’s defense, President Obama improved his 2008 margin of victory in only two states last November: New York and New Jersey. Kyrillos was always swimming up a waterfall from Day One. That said, there’s not much positive coming out of his statewide candidacy that Republicans would want to replicate in a special election. I’m told the Christie operative class and members of the inner circle were thoroughly unimpressed by the operation.
4. Kim Guadagno
The exceedingly likable 54-year old mother whom many still affectionately refer to as “Sheriff Kim” is Chris Christie’s Lieutenant Governor and, as such, is technically the state’s second highest elected official. Would she also be his choice to replace a departing Menendez?
Strengths: Again, for the sake of brevity, let’s focus on what distinguishes her from the others… she’s an intelligent, articulate, reasonably charismatic woman. And yes, she’s attractive, too! Even the somewhat superficial stuff counts in an age when Republicans are seeking to shed the ridiculous “war on women” stigma. She’s also been in campaign mode for months, travelling tirelessly around the state to fairs and business parks in her capacity as Acting Governor during Christie’s fairly frequent out-of-state political trips. A dress rehearsal?
Weaknesses: Lt. Governor Guadagno might have the least conducive personality for D.C. of anyone on this list. And that’s not a bad thing in my book! Like Christie, she is an executive personality. Even if she was the #1 choice, there’s no indication she’d have any interest. There’s also a persistent impression (which I personally believe in unfair) in Republican circles that she’s a lightweight. Honestly, that impression’s genesis may have more to do with being forced to live in the shadow of America’s most recognized Republican than anything actually rooted in reality. All in all, a strong choice…
5. Jay Webber
Strengths: Young, conservative, very handsome (according to my politically-savvy female friends), big Irish Catholic family, articulate, Ivy League pedigree, popular among state grassroots Republicans… in some ways, Webber is the perfect package. The base would have no problem accepting him; conversely, he’s not an in-your-face “angry” conservative that could be easily cast by the Left as an extremist.
Weaknesses: It’s a well-known fact that Webber is an independent minded guy with strong opinions. That’s led him to scrap with the Christie front office in the past over political/strategic/tactical, particularly during his brief tenure as NJGOP Chairman. We all know those conflicts are often inevitable when you have a bunch of young, dynamic guys in the same room seeking to steer a new Administration in new directions. Whether it’s limited Webber’s ability to “move up” in the near term remains to be seen.