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U.S. Senator Cory Booker. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

Here’s what might happen if Cory Booker drops Senate re-election bid

If Booker wins presidential nomination and gives up Senate seat, NJ Democratic State Committee would pick replacement candidate

By David Wildstein, February 15 2019 1:01 am

An overwhelming majority of New Jerseyans want Cory Booker to forgo seeking re-election to the United States Senate – if he is the Democratic nominee for president of the United States.

A Monmouth University Poll released on Thursday shows that 66% of the state say he should walk away from the Senate if he’s the Democratic candidate for president against Donald Trump in the November 2020 general election.

A new law approved last fall allows Booker the option of running for President and Senate simultaneously.  The poll shows that New Jerseyans don’t think he should avail himself of that opportunity, even if it’s legal.

The possibility of an open U.S. Senate seat next year creates some interesting scenarios – all completely hypothetical — including who might run if Booker does not.  It’s always good to be prepared.

1. Booker drops Senate bid before the Democratic primary

It’s conceivable that lightening strikes and Booker becomes the apparent Democratic presidential nominee before the March 30, 2020 filing deadline.  The tentative start of the 2020 calendar is February 3 in Iowa, followed by February 11 in New Hampshire and February 29 in South Carolina.  Super Tuesday is March 3.

Even if Booker runs the table, it’s hard to see him clinching the nomination before Florid and Illinois vote on March 17.

That would leave a window of less than two weeks before the filing deadline for a candidate to launch a campaign and raise money for what could be an expensive Democratic primary.

Here’s the kicker: if a sitting Member of Conrgess decides to run for U.S. Senate, it would trigger a last minute candidacy for an open House seat.  New Jersey law does not permit simultaneous candidacies for Senate and House – although the Legislature could change that, or the New Jersey courts could allow it.  You never know.

Note that there are an extra ten days after Booker files his petitions when his Committee on Vacancies could select a replacement candidate.

2. Booker wins the Senate primary, then withdraws

Booker could still run in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate and drop his re-election bid if he were to become the presumptive nominee.  Even though 57% of Democrats in the Monmouth Poll think he shouldn’t run for both offices, it’s not like Booker would lose a Democratic Senate primary in New Jersey.

In the event of his withdrawal from the Senate race, the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee would be chosen by a vote of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.  That’s how Frank Lautenberg became the replacement candidate when Bob Torricelli dropped out of the race in 2002.

3.  Booker runs for President and Senate

The Monmouth Poll, influential as it is, does not dictate Booker’s options.  He could run for both offices, as New Jersey law permits.  It’s not like New Jersey is suddenly going to elect a Republican U.S. Senator in protest, even if the GOP were to come up with a $36 Million Dollar Man (or Woman).  Still, Republicans could recruit a candidate who wants the national exposure of being Booker’s opponent and winds up running against someone else.  That hasn’t happened since 2002.

Who runs if Booker doesn’t?

Not surprisingly, there is already some discussion of who might run for U.S. Senate next year if Booker does not.

Possible candidates include: Reps. Donald Norcross (D-Camden), Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff), Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing); Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver; and even Gov. Phil Murphy.  There are probably more.

The race for Democratic State Chairman between incumbent John Currie and Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones, Jr. – now less than a year away – could be a precursor of a special U.S. Senate contest.  The results of that election would be a signal of who wields the most influence if the nomination is awarded by a vote of the state committee.

Any New Jersey House member would have to give up their congressional seat to run in a U.S. Senate primary.  Those who want to run ought to avoid long walks in Princeton.

But if the race is behind closed doors in a post-primary vote of the state party, a Member of Congress would only have to withdraw from their own re-election campaign after the vote.

Republicans would have no chance of picking up Norcross’ seat in New Jersey’s 1st district.  While it’s hard to imagine Senate President Steve Sweeney giving up the most powerful legislative leadership post in the nation to become a freshman congressman, Democrats have a deep and wide bench in South Jersey.

Norcross could quickly and easily raise the money necessary to run statewide.

The transition there would be seamless: the Democratic county committee for the towns in the 1st district would meet, ratify the preferred candidate of the party leadership, and in January 2021 that person would be a Member of Congress.

Watson Coleman is popular with progressives and there will be a push for New Jersey to elect its first woman U.S. Senator.  The 12th district seat would be easily transferred to a Democrat.  Watson Coleman’ greatest obstacle would be her age: she turns 75 next year.

Possible candidates for Watson Coleman’s seat could include Trenton mayor Reed Gusciora; State Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio; Assemblymen Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) and Anthony Verrelli (D-Hopewell); Assemblywomen Nancy Pinkin (D-East Brunswick) and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Trenton); Plainfield mayor Adrian Mapp; and Mercer County Democratic chair Janice Mironov, the mayor of East Windsor.

Gottheimer and Sherrill are both human fundraising machines who represent politically competitive congressional districts.  While each remains the favorite to win re-election in 2020 – at least right now – their sudden departure from the race might put the 5th and 11th districts in play.

Imagine this scenario: Gottheimer or Sherrill suddenly drop their re-election bis in July because they’ve been nominated as the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

Great news for them, but not as much for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The DCCC would be left scrambling for a replacement candidate who would need to rush to raise money and build name recognition in a sprawling district that sits within one of the most expensive media markets in the country.

Gottheimer and Sherrill flipped longtime Republican districts by starting early.  Sherrill’s opponent, Republican Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains) was severely hampered by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s retirement late in the game – nine months before the election.

The 5th has 3,927 more Democrats than Republicans, while the 11th has 5,399 more Republicans than Democrats.  Donald Trump carried both districts in 2016.

Even more risky would be for Democrats to move Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-Rocky Hill) or Andy Kim (D-Marlton) to the Senate; Republicans will be competitive against those incumbents next year and an open seat would likely favor a GOP pickup.

Reminder: replacement candidates are chosen by a vote of the county committee in the municipalities in a congressional district.

Possible Gottheimer replacements: State Sen. Joseph Lagana (D-Paramus); Bergen County Executive James Tedesco; Paramus mayor Richard LaBarbiera; Assemblyman Christopher Tully (D-Bergenfield); Assemblywoman Lisa Swain (D-Fair Lawn); and former State Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Fair Lawn), now a state Public Utilities commissioner.

A Democratic short list to replace Sherrill could include: Assemblyman John McKeon (D-West Orange); Parsippany mayor Michael Soriano; Woodland Park mayor Keith Kazmark; and Passaic County freeholder John Bartlett.

The National Republican Congressional Committee would also face challenge: how do they recruit a general election candidate to run against Gottheimer or Sherrill that would still be their first choice if the contest was for an open seat?

Oliver, a former Assembly Speaker who ran against Booker in the 2013 special U.S. Senate primary, is also popular among progressives and could pull Essex County out of a South Jersey coalition in a state committee vote.  If she were to win a U.S. Senate seat in 2020, Murphy would appoint a new Lt. Governor who would likely be his new running mate.

Another option to replace Booker in the U.S. Senate would be Murphy himself.  That would allow the governor to enjoy a new life experience in Washington and remove him from the perils of a 2021 re-election fight.

If Murphy wanted to move to Washington, there are probably a bunch of Democratic leaders who would be driving voters to the polls on election day to make sure he wins.

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