Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Race of the Day- New Jersey U.S. Senate

56 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Outlook: Safe Democrat

The story of the 2014 Senate race in the Garden State is that there is not really much to see, despite many opportunities and circumstances that could have provided more political drama.

In June of 2013, longtime Democrat Senator Frank Lautenberg passed away at the age of 89. Not long before, he had announced plans to seek another term in 2014, frustrating a generation of New Jersey Democrats who had been waiting for him to move on from the scene. Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a popular and ambitious African-American Democrat, who had received national attention, would eventually decide he would run for the seat, whether Lautenberg did or not. That led to some harsh feelings among Lautenberg and his staunchest allies, but with polls showing that beating Booker might be tough to do, he eventually announced he would not run again, and of course that became a moot point when Lautenberg died, and Booker was already considered a strong front-runner to eventually take the seat.

I had much to say when I discussed the 2013 special election last year, but to try to briefly re-cap, New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie had the right to appoint a replacement for Lautenberg. Instead of picking a candidate who might have the opportunity to compete politically in the state, and actually seek a full term in 2014, Christie made it clear that he would choose to not roil Democrats, by appointing a caretaker to the seat, whose Senate tenure would be short and whose name is now basically forgotten. Furthermore, Christie scheduled a quick special election, in which Booker (who would go on to easily dispatch credible primary opposition) would be the strong favorite. It is certainly possible that there may not have even needed to be a special election, and that a Republican could be in the seat now, and maybe running to keep it, but Christie believed the New Jersey courts would order a special election to be held in 2013. So, the Governor scheduled it for October, just weeks before Christie would go on to win his own reelection in the state, in a contest that he already had little to worry about (despite some staffers obsession with shutting bridges down as political payback.) The thinking was that holding two elections in such quick succession in New Jersey would lower the turnout for November, especially among black voters enthusiastic to vote for Booker, and insure that Christie would win by a larger landslide than he was already on target for.  It is my opinion that Christie basically sacrificed a U.S. Senate seat for the GOP (at least in the short term) to Booker, with whom he had a relatively good relationship, in order gain an extra three or four percent on his already insurmountable victory margin in November.

Nonetheless, Booker's October victory, while never in doubt, was by a relatively unimpressive 11 percent margin over a weak and politically divisive conservative opponent. All this has to make political junkies wonder whether a stronger Republican might have actually had a chance in 2013 or might have a chance now. Booker is now safely in the Senate, where he is the only African-American Democrat, and incumbency certainly helps him as he seeks a full term in a Democrat leaning state. There were opportunities for politically strong Republicans to try to run in 2014, but all passed on the chance. Booker was definitely in the catbird seat for a long Senate career, perhaps a full year before it might have otherwise begun.

Four Republicans did run for the Senate nomination in the June primary, and despite all of them earning some organizational endorsements from local GOP groups, the race really did not receive any attention, and going into the primary, it was considered possible for any of the four to win. The Republican candidates included two Jewish-Americans and an Italian-American, but the winner would ultimately be the candidate with the most Anglo sounding last name. Only about 10 percent separated first from fourth place as the candidates achieved 20 percent to 30 percent of the divided field.

College professor Murray Sabin, a Paulish libertarian, who had twice sought a GOP Senate nomination previously finished in fourth behind businessman Brian Goldberg, a first time candidate. In second place was businessman Rich Pezullo, who some analysts had predicted would win the little noticed primary. He had been a New Jersey Senate nominee before, back in the 1990s, but as the candidate of the Conservative Party. The ultimate winner though had been an official GOP U.S. Senate nominee in the past however, albeit way back in 1978.

Jeff Bell was a 34 year old political aide and speechwriter when conservative support allowed him to upset longtime Senator Clifford Chase, a liberal Northeast Republican, back when they were more common, in a GOP primary. Bell would lose in November, as has every GOP Senate nominee in the state since, and lost a Republican Senate primary bid in 1982 to a moderate Congresswoman. Over the decades, Bell has remained active in conservative causes and think tanks, and on behalf of some Republican candidates. He never ran for office again until now, where at the age of 70, he is once again a U.S. Senate nominee.

The task for Bell this November is more difficult than what he faced in 1978, despite the fact that Cory Booker demonstrated some statewide political vulnerability by his 2013 showing. There is no denying Bell's intellectual gravitas, but some of his more esoteric economic views, as well as his somewhat stiff political style, do not exactly make him a good fit for the very expensive to run in New Jersey.

Polls show Booker ahead with room to spare, but those numbers also continue to show that there are some Garden State voters who are willing to vote for any Republican against the now incumbent Senator. Christie is somewhat politically weakened in the state, but seems unlikely to get involved in this race anyway, as he is tasked with trying to help Republican Governors across the country, in his role as RGA Chair. In some ways, Bell is a better candidate than the person that Booker beat in the 2013 special election, but he is probably not going to do slightly worse in the voting.

Bell campaign link:


Senate races predicted thus far: 9 D (5 Safe, 3 Leans, 1 Tossup), 13 R (5 Safe, 2 Likely, 4 Leans, 2 Tossup) 
Overall predicted thus far: 43 D, 43 R (net Republican gain of 5)


At 7:37 AM, Anonymous Conservative Democrat said...

Booker wins 57%-41%.


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