I don’t give much credence to rumors that Rep. Chris Smith (R-Mercer) will retire from Congress this year. But it’s reasonable to at least consider the possibility of retirement for any incumbent who has been in office for 38 years, but Smith is just 64 – that’s relatively young — if he were a New Jersey State Senator, he’d be in the younger half of the caucus. The idea that he’s grown frustrated with the current Congress pales to just how much he loves the job he’s held since he was 27-year-old.
The fourth district seat is solidly Republican – Smith won the last election by 30 points and Donald Trump carried it 55%-41%. There are about 17,000 more Republicans than Democrats in the district. NJ-04 is the only House seat in the state that’s not in play for the Democrats.
One pre-emptive warning: Smith’s 4th quarter fundraising numbers in the year before his re-election are always a bit anemic and ought to not be interpreted as a sign of pending retirement. That’s just the way Smith does it.
The current district would favor a Republican congressional candidate from Monmouth County. 57% of the Republicans come from Monmouth, with 33% from Ocean and 10% from Mercer.
If Smith does retire, two obvious contenders are Republicans who live in Frank Pallone’s district: former State Sen. Joe Kyrillos and soon-to-be former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. When it comes to congressional campaigns, residency is just a technicality. Democrats would be unable to make an issue – not that it would matter in NJ-04 – unless one of their challengers to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen moves into NJ-11.
Kyrillos is one of the most popular vote-getters in modern Monmouth history. If he really wanted a House seat, he could have this one. It is likely that he doesn’t. Similarly, if Guadagno wanted to go to Congress, it would be hard for the Monmouth GOP to turn her down.
More likely, the top contenders for an open seat in Congress are: Monmouth County Sheriff (and Republican County Chairman) Shaun Golden; Assemblyman Sean Kean; former Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande; and former Assemblyman Dave Rible. Declan O’Scanlon lives in the district, but he was just sworn in to his new State Senate seat and running for Congress so quickly could be difficult.
Kean could make a particularly strong congressional candidate, even if Golden were to take the Monmouth organization line for himself. He represents Lakewood in the legislature, and has strong ties to the Ocean County Republican organization.
Ocean County lacks an obvious candidate. State Sen. Bob Singer is from Lakewood, and while the ability to take Amtrak to Washington and then use the Metro subway system in the city could be appealing, there is little chance that Republicans will go with a candidate who is six years older than the retiring 19-term incumbent. Ocean was unable to take Rible’s Assembly seat when he left to become Director of the Division of Alcoholic Beverages last year. Their candidate was Justin Flancbaum, the Executive Director of the Lakewood Municipal Authority.
There is still no word about Rible’s employment status. Gov.-elect Phil Murphy has said he will notify Christie administration appointees by close of business on Monday if they are to be out of a job at noon Tuesday.
Mercer would only be a factor if Ocean put Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede or Robbinsville Mayor David Fried on their organization line. Some may recall that Ocean backed Bob Schroeder for Governor in 2005, so anything is possible.
Monmouth County has not had a favorite-son Republican Congressman since 1964, when James Auchincloss retired and Democrat Jim Howard won the seat.