The 2014 election cycle potentially was going to be highlighted in New Jersey with a Democratic primary between Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Newark Mayor Cory Booker. However, in June 2013 a wrinkle occurred. Senator Lautenberg passed away and opened the door for a special election that led to Booker becoming the next U.S. Senator from New Jersey after defeating Steve Lonegan, the Republican nominee. There was a chance that the two would face off again in 2014.
Not long after the dust settled after the October special election, speculation quickly began for who would challenge Senator Booker in 2014 when he would be running for a full term. Would any of the usual potential Republican nominees put their name in the running? Would one or both of the Republicans who lost to Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) in 2006 and 2012 respectively challenge Senator Booker? Would Lonegan try again? Or would a new name emerge to try to break the 42 year drought the GOP has had with sending a U.S. Senator to Congress?
The names of potential Republican challengers started to flow similarly to last year when the vacancy occurred and the year before when Menendez was preparing to defend his seat. There were state Senators Joseph Kyrillos (R-13), Tom Kean Jr. (R-21), and Michael Doherty (R-23). There was Lonegan. There were Assemblymen Jon Bramnick (R-21) and Jay Webber (R-26). And non-political names like John Crowley and Woody Johnson.
However, one by one each potential candidate declined to run. Four names would emerge as Republican challengers for Senator Booker: Jeffrey Bell, a political consultant and 1978 Senatorial nominee and 1982 Senatorial candidate; Brian Goldberg, a businessman; Richard Pezzullo, a businessman and Conservative Party nominee for U.S. Senate in 1994 and 1996; and Murray Sabrin, a Ramapo College professor and U.S. Senate candidate in 2000 and 2008. No household name among the bunch and each trails Booker by a wide margin in name recognition and fundraising. At the moment, it looks like a runaway race for Booker.
With the race largely about how big a win Booker will secure at the moment, it is worth recognizing the dozen individuals who could have run for the Republican Party nomination but didn't.
The dozen who are not running:
State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-21): He fell short in 2006 against Senator Menendez. His name was tossed around again in 2012 before deciding not to run. He is the son of a former governor and survived tough backlash from Governor Chris Christie and a couple of his allies in the state Senate last Fall to retain his leadership post. He could certainly become a leading Republican voice for the state and a strong candidate despite likely not having the governor's backing.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21): He has risen up the ranks in his party in the Assembly and is one of the closer members of the State Legislature to Governor Chris Christie. He leans more towards the middle of his party and that would play well in a general election as long as primary voters feel that way.
Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ11): It is not uncommon for members of the U.S. House to set their sights on the U.S. Senate. A perfect example of a member of the U.S. House entering a U.S. Senate race and changing its complexion is the U.S. Senate race in Colorado that went from a likely Democratic win to a growing toss up. Among the five Republican members running for reelection this year, Frelinghuysen would likely have the most name recognition not only from himself but also his family. He would bring a moderate-enough record and present himself to be an electable Republican statewide.
Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ4): The veteran congressman has worked his way up the ranks in the U.S. House and could run a strong statewide campaign if he chose to run. Much like Frelinghuysen, he could be pragmatic and use his strengths to present himself as a strong candidate and potential nominee. He has a stronghold among his district and the southern part of the state. Expanding beyond that, he could present himself as a candidate with a lot of experience in different areas during his time in Congress.
Congressman Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ2): He has established himself to be well-liked in his district. He could certainly take his appeal from his district and present himself as a candidate that could garner votes among all wings of the Republican Party.
Congressman Leonard Lance (R-NJ7): Fighter. That is definitely one word to sum up Lance's time in Congress when it comes to getting elected or reelected. He has had to work hard to not only win general elections compared to some of his contemporaries in the state but even more so when it comes to primary battles. He is going to have a similar stretch in 2014 and that type of gauntlet every two years would battle test him for a similar campaign on a larger scale if he ran for U.S. Senate.
Congressman Scott Garrett (R-NJ5): New Jersey is far from being one of the more conservative states. However, Garrett has never wavered in his beliefs and he has benefited from a favorable district. He would could run a similar campaign as Lonegan did last year but would have higher name recognition, funds, and a larger support network from base voters.
State Senator Joseph Kyrillos (R-13): He fell short against Senator Menendez in 2012 and is close with Governor Christie. He can learn from mistakes two years ago and position himself to run a stronger campaign with the benefit of already being his party's nominee.
Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26): He is a young star for the Republicans in the State Legislature, who was a major player during the redistricting conversations a few years ago. He is able to appeal to the more moderate wings of the party as well as more base voters. He is could also use his youth to position himself to be in a key contributor for his party and the state for years to come.
State Senator Michael Doherty (R-23): Lonegan was a Tea Party favorite with a brass bravado during his speeches. Doherty would be the same type of candidate but more unforgiving and much more open similarly to Garrett. He might not get swing voters in the state but would fire up the base and that could close the gap a little in non-presidential election year.
Steve Lonegan: While he fell short of defeating Booker in 2013, he did better than many expected largely due to turnout and some mixed feelings about Booker from his own party. He would not have to build-up a campaign like he had to do last June and would be able to pick up where he left off.
John Crowley: He is a popular non-political name mentioned the last couple of years but seems to enjoy being in the private sector. The Princeton businessman would likely be able to fundraise well in addition to what he could contribute himself. He has polled well in the past and could be one of the few candidates the Republicans could put forth that could stipend a fair amount of Independent and swing voters that were important for Governor Chris Christie in him winning two terms.
None of these dozen names will be challenging Senator Booker this year. Each would certainly have a difficult road ahead based on history and Booker himself. But, as highlighted, they would still bring with them some strengths in different areas to give the race some more attention. For now, each remains a hypothetical name as Senator Booker prepares to face whomever emerges from the four man GOP primary.