After Frank Lautenberg cited the rigors of fundraising as the reason for his February 1999 announcement that he would not seek re-election to a fourth term in the United States Senate, former New Jersey Democratic State chairman Tom Byrne was one of the early contenders for the seat.
Byrne, the son of former Gov. Brendan Byrne, spent the next ten month traveling the state seeking support for the U.S. Senate. He didn’t pick up any endorsements from county chairmen, but he did loan his campaign
The field of potential candidates winnowed from over a dozen to eight by the time former Goldman Sachs chairman Jon Corzine entered the race in June.
Other candidates included former Gov. Jim Florio, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch), former Rep. Herb Klein (D-Clifton), Edison mayor George Spadaro, former Morris County prosecutor Michael Murphy, and a Mountainside businessman named Lloyd DeVos who thought he’s wow Democrats by saying he was ready to put $1 million into his campaign.
Democratic insiders rallied around Corzine, whose personal wealth was a draw in what was supposed to be a race against two-term Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. Whitman was an announced candidate but changed her mind in September.
When Byrne announced he wouldn’t run around Thanksgiving 1999, the Democratic race for Lautenberg’s seat was down to Corzine and Florio.
Byrne loaned himself another $500,000 in March 2008 as he actively explored a challenge to the 84-year-old-Lautenberg in the Democratic primary. Lautenberg had returned to the Senate in 2002 after Bob Torricelli dropped his re-election bid.
Jump ahead twenty years and Byrne still has an active campaign account.
And because Byrne earns his living as savvy investor, his Friends of Tom Byrne account has grown to a warchest of $1,345,883, according to a report he filed with the Federal Election Commission this week.
The campaign now owes Byrne $690,000 for his interest-free loan.
From time to time, there is still talk of Byrne running for something – he toyed with running for governor in 2017 but never pulled the trigger – but at age 65, his options are limited.