Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) died Monday morning of viral pneumonia. He leaves a legacy of over three decades of public service, holding two different Senate seats and championing progressive causes that have molded America today. Lautenberg kickstarted the movement for smoke-free public spaces, he eliminated gun ownership for known domestic abusers, he wrote the law that requires factories to inform local communities what toxins they are releasing, and he helped fund comprehensive sex education, among countless other public goods. We have lost a true public servant today.
But this loss will not only affect his fellow Congressional representatives personally, but politically.
His open Senate seat is now New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s for the taking. According to Jersey election law, the governor can appoint a replacement until a special election can be held or the next election for the seat occurs, which is in 2014. Essentially, Christie is free to appoint a representative who can hold the seat for most of the remainder of the term.
With Christie considering a presidential bid in 2016, choosing a Republican is almost inevitable. It is not only a way to prove he isn’t a RINO, but it will give the potential candidate a leg up in the Senate election come 2014, which is sorely needed because the clear front-runner is currently Democrat Cory Booker. Another Republican Senator will also further narrow the Senate Democrat majority with the biggest issue of this session, comprehensive immigration reform, still to come.
Four potential replacements for Lautenberg:
1. Kim Guadagno
New Jersey’s Lieutenant Governor, she was a potential candidate for the GOP in the 2014 election for this seat. She is a loyal supporter of Christie, having campaigned and governed with him for years, and if she wins the seat in 2014, she would be a devoted ally to Christie for years to come.
2. Geraldo Rivera
This was the other potential candidate for the 2014 election. Rivera is a well-known lawyer, journalist, and TV personality who often appears on Fox News. Like Guadagno, having the seat early would help in the next race, and his Hispanic background would help Christie in 2016, especially considering that Republicans are worried about courting that fast-growing voting bloc.
3. Tom Kean Jr.
A N.J. State Senator, this Republican is the son of former Jersey Governor Thomas Kean. He’s lost a campaign for a U.S. Senate seat before, but his record of budget control, private sector economy support, alternative fuel development, and campaigns to end violence in Darfur make him an interesting and more moderate choice.
4. Joe Kyrillos
Another N.J. State Senator who lost a U.S. Senate campaign, Kyrillos has helped Christie with his gubernatorial campaigns in the past, and he has also played significant national-level roles, like New Jersey Chairman for Romney’s 2008 presidential bid. His expertise and the favor repaid might make him a strong and skilled supporter in upcoming years.