Just a refresher on the succession of statewide officeholders in New Jersey for political junkies who want to play the what-if game — and to be clear, this is just a what-if game for now:
* If Phil Murphy runs for president or vice president in 2020 and wins, or if another Democrat captures the presidency and decides to put Murphy in the cabinet, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver would become the Governor of New Jersey in January 2021. She would then have to decide if she wants to run for a full four-year term or enjoy her year as governor without the encumbrances of a political campaign.
* If Cory Booker runs for president or vice president in 2020, it’s a little more complicated. Booker can probably run for national office and re-election to the United States Senate concurrently. One election law expert told the New Jersey Globe that Booker might have Hudson County Freeholder Anthony Romano to thank for that.
In 2017, Romano ran for re-election as freeholder and for mayor of Hoboken. A Superior Court Judge ruled that Romano could run for both offices; had he won both, he would have had to pick one. Oliver ran for re-election to the State Assembly and for Lt. Governor; she resigned from the Assembly just before she was sworn in to her statewide office.
The problem there is a state law that prohibits accepting a nomination by petition for more than one office in a primary. Oliver didn’t run in two primaries, and Hoboken’s mayoral election is non-partisan. This would undoubtedly provoke a legal battle to determine if a presidential primary is considered a public office or a party office, the election law expert said.
What would likely happen in the case of Booker being a serious presidential candidate is that the Democratic-controlled Legislature would pass a law allowing Booker to run for national office and re-election to the Senate. One insider suggested that Murphy would sign such a bill. Booker would probably be allowed to run for vice president and for re-election to the Senate, much like Oliver ran for Lt. Governor and Assemblywoman.
Depending on how things are going, Booker could decide to forgo another term in the Senate. If he were to capture enough delegates to win the presidential nomination before the April filing deadline, he could simply drop out of the Senate race and let Democrats nominate a new candidate to fill his seat. While in most states it would be cumbersome for a candidate to wait until April to start raising money, in New Jersey it wouldn’t be that big a deal. In a presidential year with Booker at the top of the ticket, it would be hard for Democrats to lose.
Booker could also end his Senate campaign after the June primary. That would mean the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate would be determined by a vote on the full New Jersey Democratic State Committee. Donald Norcross and Josh Gottheimer would not have to give up their House seats unless they won the state party vote. Then the county committee members in their districts would pick a new congressional candidate. That wouldn’t be a problem for Norcross, who has a safe seat, but it might be for Gottheimer, assuming he wins in 2018 and could face a tougher re-election race in 2020.
If Booker runs for president or vice president and U.S. Senator and wins both – or if another Democrat wins and puts Booker in his or her cabinet – Murphy would appoint a new U.S. Senator.
In that scenario, Murphy would have to decide if he wants to do what Chris Christie did in 2013 and call a separate special election for U.S. Senate – something Democrats strongly criticized him for – or hold the special election on the same day as the 2021 gubernatorial election. There would be a primary election as well – either in June 2021 or on a different day, depending on what Murphy orders. The winner of that special would serve until the 2026 election.
* Just to further complicate things: it’s possible that Murphy could effectively appoint himself to the U.S. Senate. He would resign, Oliver would become governor, and then she would send Murphy to Washington. Anyone who thinks that scenario is completely crazy hasn’t been around New Jersey long enough to fully appreciate the reliable oddities of politics in the Garden State.
* Last reminder: if Oliver somehow makes her way to the governorship, she would then have 45 days to appoint a new Lt. Governor.