Click play for audio version of this story
The unexpected death of seven-term State Senator Anthony R. Bucco (R-Boonton) on Monday creates enormous uncertainty in the upcoming general election, especially with the possibility that his son, Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton), will drop his re-election bid and succeed his father in the Senate.
It’s possible that Democrats have no idea who their opponent will be in in an election just 48 days away for at least another week. They’ll probably have to hit the pause button anyway, out of respect for the late senator, and give Assemblyman Bucco a chance to mourn the loss of his father – and make some big career decisions.
Here are some answers to the mysteries of New Jersey special elections and legislative succession:
Will there be a special election in 2019?
No. The deadline was on September 10.
Who fills Bucco’s Senate seat?
That’s up to the Republican County Committee members in the Morris County-based 25th district, who must hold a special election convention between 7 and 35 days. There is some precedent to holding the vote earlier. Reminder: Bernardsville has votes.
When in the next election?
November 2020. Candidates will be selected in a special primary next June to fill the remaining fourteen months of Bucco’s term.
What happens to Bucco’s son?
That remains unclear. Anthony M. Bucco remains on the November 2019 ballot, unless he decides to withdraw. He is the clear front-runner to succeed his father in the New Jersey Senate. If Bucco were to move to the Senate, he would no longer face an election in 2019. Instead, he would gain a year of incumbency before facing voters.
Can Republicans replace Bucco on the 2019 Assembly ticket?
Yes. New Jersey judges have granted political parties extraordinary flexibility to replace candidates – even after early voting has already begun. Democrats changed their U.S. Senate nominee on October 3, 2002. When the mayor of North Arlington died on October 10, 2018, a judge allowed a replacement candidate to be selected on October 24.
Who picks the replacement candidate?
The Republican County Committee from the municipalities in the 25th district. They would need to call a special convention in accordance with their bylaws to name a new candidate.
Is there a catch?
It’s New jersey, so there’s always a catch. Republicans can replace Bucco on the Assembly ticket, but the GOP will have to pay for the cost of reprinting and remailing vote-by-mail ballots and other expenses related to the candidate switch. The new VBM law could make this expensive.
Why wouldn’t Bucco take the Senate seat?
It’s unlikely that he won’t. Democrats might have a better chance in the 25th next year, when their base is motivated to vote against Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton won the 25th, albeit by just 18 votes, and Democratic congressional candidates combined for a 9,479-vote win in 2018. But Bucco could also lose his Assembly seat this year, and this is a sure-thing ticket into the Senate, so it’s probably worth the risk.
Could Republicans put a caretaker in the Senate while Bucco runs for re-election?
Yes, but why would they? No matter what, there will be a 2020 special election for Senate. Bucco won’t want to run three years in a row if he doesn’t have to — the winner in 202o will need to run again in 2021, with the uncertainties of legislative redistricting. And Republicans will want to run an incumbent next year.
Any chance Bucco will decide to just stay in the Assembly?
Respectfully, is there any chance Prince Charles would pass up being King?
Could Bucco lose a special election convention?
Unlikely. Bucco ran 3,690 votes ahead of the second place finisher in the June 2019 GOP primary, and 5,108 in front of the candidate who came in third. The Senate seat is Bucco’s if he wants it.
What happens to Bucco’s money?
Bucco’s warchest belongs to Bucco and he’ll need it for next year. That’s bad news for running Brian Bergen, who is depending on his running mate’s fundraising abilities to carry him through November. It’s not like Jon Bramnick has money to spare.
What happens to the money Democrats have already spent attacking Bucco?
Ask Doug Forrester. He spent $10 million running for U.S. Senate against Bob Torricelli in 2002, but when Democrats switched candidates and Frank Lautenberg ran, Forrester lost his investment in TV ads to drive up Torricelli’s negatives. He lost the race by ten points.
Can Michael Patrick Carroll run?
Yes. Republicans can choose anyone they want, if the candidate meets the constitutional and legal requirements of the office. But Carroll wanted out of the Assembly anyway, and there is no reason to believe he wants back in.
What about Aura Dunn and John Barbarula?
Yes. New Jersey’s sore loser law only applies to candidates who lose a primary running as an independent. It doesn’t apply to replacement candidates. In 2003, an assemblywoman who lost the Democratic primary was able to switch parties and become the GOP replacement candidate.
Can Republicans pull a double-switch?
Yes, which means a candidate already running for county or municipal office could jump to the Assembly race and the Republicans could switch candidates the same way. The catch: the GOP would have to pay those costs too and the Morris Republican organization is strapped for cash.
When does voting start?
Saturday. County Clerks may begin mailing VBM ballots on September 21.