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

What happens if Booker doesn’t run for re-election to the Senate

New Jersey’s filing deadline is less than three months away

By David Wildstein, December 31 2019 3:50 pm

The filing deadline for the June 2020 primary is less than three months away and Cory Booker has not yet announced if he will seek re-election to the United States Senate.

Booker is at 3% in two national polls released this week, so there may not be a whole lot of drama associated with his decision.  A new law passed in 2018 allows Booker to run for president and U.S. Senate simultaneously.

But pretend for a moment that Booker were to suddenly gain momentum as a presidential candidate and find himself a serious White House contender early next year.  It’s possible that he could go all in and forgo a re-election bid.

That would cause all hell to break loose in an already splintered New Jersey Democratic Party that would produce an expansive short list of Senate candidates.

That could have extraordinary ramifications on other races throughout the state, if Democratic House members like Donald Norcross (D-Camden), Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff), Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) or Mikie Sherill (D-Montclair) were to get in the Senate race.

Norcross’ congressional seat is safe Democratic.  South Jersey Democrats could easily put a placeholder on the ticket as an insurance policy in case Norcross lost a statewide primary – that’s what they did in 2008 when Rep. Rob Andrews challenged Frank Lautenberg for Senate.

Gottheimer, the Human Fundraising Machine, has enough money in his House account to sustain.

Democrats would need to search for a replacement candidate if they want to hold the 5th district House seat – maybe Assemblyman Christopher Tully (D-Bergenfield), Gottheimer’s former district director, or Board of Public Utilities Commissioner Bob Gordon, a former state senator.  Another Democrat, Glen Rock Councilwoman Arati Kreibich, is already in the race and preparing to challenge Gottheimer from the left.

If Malinowski ran, Democrats don’t have a clear front runner to hold the seat against the leading GOP candidate, Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield).  Watch for Westfield Mayor Shelly Brindle or Somerset County Freeholder Sara Sooy as potential candidates on the Democratic side if Malinowski jumped into a Senate race.

A Sherill for Senate campaign would put her 11th district seat back in play for the Republicans.

Democrats could be looking at Assemblyman John McKeon (D-West Orange), Passaic County Freeholder John Bartlett, Woodland Park Mayor Keith Kazmark,  or NJ 11th for Change executive director Saily Avelenda as potential Sherrill replacements.

And a last-minute exit by Sherill might affect the Republican field, where trucking company executive Jerry Langer and former Kinnelon Councilman Larry Casha are currently leading the field in an uphill battle to flip the district back to the red side.

Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-Long Branch) has been on U.S. Senate short lists for 20 years, but would be unlikely to give up the chairmanship of the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee to run.

Other potential U.S. Senate candidates: Senate President Steve Sweeney, whose move to Washington would trigger a change in legislative leadership that might benefit Gov. Phil Murphy; Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin; Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg;  Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver; Attorney General Gurbir Grewal; or Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.

Progressives might try to run a statewide campaign from the left, which could put New Jersey Working Families state director Sue Altman in the race, if Murphy decided to back her.

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop could try to run – he has a super PAC with more than $2 million in reserve – but these days he’s damaged goods and it’s uncertain whether he’ll ever emerge as a statewide contender after his failed 2017 gubernatorial bid.

Booker could run in the June primary and then exit the race, either because he’s the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee or because he’s running for vice president.  To be clear, the new law would allow him to run for vice president and senate at the same time.

If he withdraws from the race after the primary, the nominee would be selected by the Democratic State Committee.

It’s not immediately clear how a state committee vote would, since the race for state party chairman ended before any ballots were cast.  Murphy and U.S. Senator Bob Menendez would play a key role in choosing a replacement candidate for Booker.

Booker has moved most of his Senate warchest to his presidential campaign, which means he’ll need to raise money quickly if he decides to run for both offices.

There is just one certainty in the U.S. Senate race: the Republican nominee will get in the low 40% range whether the Democratic candidate is Booker or someone else.

Republicans haven’t won a U.S. Senate race in New Jersey since 1972.

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