Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco is the Prince Charles of New Jersey politics, waiting on the sidelines for his father, Anthony R. Bucco, to abdicate his seat in the New Jersey State Senate.
Now Tom Malinowski might get in the way.
Malinowski, a former Assistant U.S. Secretary of State in the Obama administration, is mounting a strong challenge against five-term Republican Rep. Leonard Lance. If Malinowski wins, there’s a chance that Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. will take on Malinowski in 2020. The 7th, as it’s drawn now, leans Republican and Malinowski vs. Kean would be a great race.
If Kean were to beat Malinowski, it is likely that Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, a little bored and itching to move up, would succeed Kean in the State Senate.
And if all of that happens, Prince Charles is next in line to be the Assembly Minority Leader.
The timeline is complicated for Prince Charles: he would become Minority Leader in January 2021, just as the 2020 census numbers are certified and the redistricting commission begins the process of drawing new legislative districts. Filing day comes in April, followed by a June primary and a November general.
It would be difficult for Bucco to assume the leadership post, and then file for the Senate three months later. If he wants to move up to the Senate in 2021, he would likely need to pass on running for Minority Leader. The calendar is not good for Prince Charles; he could decline to seek the leadership post, only to find that redistricting eliminates his oath to the Senate.
That means his father, who will be 83 in 2021, might need to run one more time in order to preserve the option of his son succeeding him. It’s to the advantage of the Buccos that the Senate seat that year is for a two-year term. But Bucco nearly lost his seat in 2017 – he defeated Democrat Lisa Bhimani by a narrow 52%-48% margin – and his re-election is not guaranteed.
In 1983, another aging Republican State Senator from Morris County, James Vreeland, decided he wanted to run for one more term. His heir apparent was Dean Gallo, the popular Assembly Minority Leader; Gallo was in no rush to move up to the Senate.
That created an opportunity for two-term Assemblywoman Leanna Brown. She challenged Vreeland in the Republican primary and beat him by 389 votes in the lineless Morris district and ended Gallo’s path to the Senate. (Gallo got lucky a year later when the federal court redrew congressional districts and he ousted eleven-term Rep. Joseph Minish in the 11th.
The big asterisk for Prince Charles is his 2019 re-election campaign. The 25th district is trending Democratic – there are 12,600 more Democrats and 6,189 more Republicans than there were when the districts were drawn in 2011 – and Bucco won last year by just 2,430 votes.
If Democrats beat him next year, the issue is moot. His father will see the handwriting on the wall, and the Senate seat may not see the continued domination of the House of Bucco into the next decade – unless Prince Charles’ estranged brother-in-law, Freeholder Douglas Cabana, winds up winning the seat.