Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s death Monday morning sets up a complicated succession process that will have implications for two Garden State politicians widely believed to hold national ambitions: Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D).
With Lautenberg’s passing, it falls to Christie to appoint a temporary replacement and to decide when to schedule the election to replace Lautenberg, both while he faces his own re-election in November and tries to build his brand on the national stage. Booker, who all-but officially announced his decision to run for Lautenberg’s seat in December, may find himself simultaneously facing off against Christie’s chosen successor and confronting the consequences of the stormy relationship he had with Lautenberg prior to the senator’s death.
Chris Christie has tried to hang out in the middle of the New Jersey Turnpike for four years now, and this is now what he faces:
He's going to lose badly no matter what he does. He can't choose a far-right Tea Party nutjob, because he's facing re-election in a blue state in less than six months. He can't choose a moderate because the nutjobs running his party will bury him. He can't punt and call a special election without nominating anyone because then he gets pegged as a wimp, and he can't wait until November to hold the election because it will bring out Democratic voters in a big way, and that could hurt his chances for re-election. He can't resign, pass the buck to Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, and have her send him to the Senate because they'd both get killed in November by Democrats. Most of all, if he doesn't pick the New Jersey equivalent of Chuck Grassley, any ambitions beyond Jersey are over for him nationally.
Nate Silver actually does have some objective advice for Christie if his goal is increasing GOP power in the Garden State:
Mr. Christie might have decent choices from New Jersey’s list of current United States representatives. Six of the state’s 12 representatives are Republicans, and most of those Republicans are quite moderate.
In particular, Mr. Christie could appoint one of the two Republican representatives — Frank LoBiondo of the Second Congressional District and Jon Runyan of the Third — who won re-election last year in districts carried by President Obama. Mr. Runyan had the better fund-raising performance last year, bringing in $2.1 million for his campaign, compared with $1.6 million for Mr. LoBiondo.
Because of New Jersey’s strong Democratic lean, the appointee would still probably be the underdog against Mayor Cory Booker of Newark or whomever the Democrats nominated. But someone like Mr. Runyan would stand a fighting chance, whereas an underqualified nominee or a conservative Republican would most likely be added to the long list of Senate appointees who failed at the ballot box.
But there's no way he can do that without incurring the wrath of the teabaggers. He's utterly screwed and he knows it.
And it couldn't happen to a more deserving sack of crap.