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Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

What Lance race means for Tony Bucco

By David Wildstein, March 22 2018 12:19 pm

If Rep. Leonard Lance loses re-election in the fall, Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. would immediately become a prime contender for the 7th district congressional seat in 2020.  If Kean were to win, his most likely successor in the State Senate is Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick.

Insiders say that the logical successor for the Minority Leader post is Assembly Republican Conference Leader Anthony M. Bucco.  Sources say that one of the things Bucco talked about while considering a bid for Rodney Frelinghuysen’s open seat was that he wanted to replace Bramnick, if the Union County Republican were to leave.

That would mean Bucco would assume the top Assembly leadership post in January 2021 – and the timing of that ascent may be inconvenient.

It’s no secret that Bucco wants to succeed his father in the State Senate.  Anthony R. Bucco, a seven-term senator, will be 83 when his seat comes up in 2021.  Senator Bucco survived a close call against political newcomer Lisa Bhimani last year, winning with just 52% of the vote.

It would be hard for Bucco to assume the Minority Leader post in January and then file for the State Senate in April.  This would come at a point where Republicans are ramping up their challenge to Gov. Phil Murphy’s re-election and drawing new legislative districts.

The 2021 election is just a two-year term for State Senators, so it’s conceivable that Senator Bucco would run just one more time to keep the seat warm for his son.  It’s also possible that he could lose, depending on how redistricting goes and how much Morris County’s demographics continue to change.

Worth mentioning is that none of the top three members of the Assembly Republican leadership scored huge wins in their 2017 re-election campaigns: Assembly Minority Whip Nancy Munoz ran just one percentage point head of Democratic challenger Lacey Rzeszowski, with Bramnick just one point ahead of Munoz; and Bucco ran just one point ahead of Tom Moran.

One last thing: if Kean were to go to Congress and Bramnick were to move up to the Senate, it would create a 2021 special election convention to fill his Assembly seat.  Republicans in District 21 are accustomed to that: Kean, Bramnick and Munoz all began their legislative careers by going that route.

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