If Cory Booker drops out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination at the end of the month, Gov. Phil Murphy will have an immediate political problem.
Murphy will want to endorse his close friend, Joe Biden. The progressive wing of the New Jersey Democratic Party with whom Murphy is closely allied will want the governor to back Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.
Should Murphy go with Biden, that would likely put the governor on the same side as his rival, Democratic powerbroker George Norcross. Norcross will almost certainly be with Biden; some say he’s sort of there already, in spirit.
The governor has been in that spot before. He endorsed two Norcross-aligned legislators just days before they faced a primary challenge from a grassroots progressive group in Camden County. And Murphy has already said he’s backing the entire Democratic congressional delegation for re-election, even though at least one congressman is facing a primary challenge from the left.
Murphy has a third option: if New Jersey’s favorite son is out of the race, he can hide behind his post as next year’s Democratic Governors Association Chairman, and claim neutrality.
That position comes with some risk, if Murphy wants to preserve his options for a post under a Democratic President. Those who sit on the sidelines are frequently ignored when they come searching for a reward.
Murphy and Biden are longtime friends, going back to the days when the governor was the Democratic National Committee Finance Chairman. That relationship blossomed when Murphy became U.S. Ambassador to Germany under President Barack Obama.
There’s a decent chance that Senate President Steve Sweeney will go for Biden too. Sweeney’s legislative district borders Delaware and some of his constituents have shared a local media market with Biden for almost fifty years.
While the entire New Jersey Democratic establishment stood with Booker — U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, all eleven House members, all 21 county chairs, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Sweeney and Murphy — the New Jersey Senator is currently in 4th place in New Jersey.
A Monmouth University Poll released last week shows Biden leading Warren, 26%-20%, among New Jersey Democrats, with Sanders at 18% and Booker at 9%.
That offers some insight into where rank-and-file Democrats now stand in a state split into factions — one allied with Murphy and the other with Norcross and Sweeney.
Warren and Sanders are polling at a combined 38%, with another 12% combining to support Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg.