On Monday, New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa became the U.S. Senate’s newest member. The 47-year-old Republican took his seat after a swearing-in ceremony led by Vice President Joe Biden. Chiesa, a close colleague of Republican Governor Chris Christie, has never held or run for political office and does not plan to seek the Senate seat in the October 16 special election.
The seat opened up last week after the death of Frank Lautenberg, a Democratic senator who served in the Senate for nearly five terms. Mr. Lautenberg, who died due to complications of viral pneumonia, was the Senate’s last surviving veteran of World War II.
Chiesa’s swearing-in ceremony occurred as Democrats and Republicans across the state scrambled to form ranks, raise money, and secure enough signatures before the 4 p.m. deadline on Monday in order to compete in the August 13 primary. Four Democrats and two Republicans filed signatures by the deadline. New Jersey state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) was the last entry, adding her name to a list of three Democrats who had earlier declared their intention to run: Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, and congressmen Frank Pallone of the Sixth District and Rush Holt of the Twelfth District .
According to several polls released Monday, Booker is the early front-runner among the Democrats. In a Rutgers-Eagleton poll, Booker is reported to have 55% of the primary vote. Representative Pallone took 9% and congressman Holt took 8%. Additionally, according to a Quinnipiac poll, Booker was leading with 53% of the primary vote. Holt and Pallone were found to be trailing Booker with 10% and 9% of the vote, respectively.
Neither survey included Oliver, who announced her candidacy after the polls were conducted. Oliver’s entry may complicate the election for Mr. Booker, as both candidates are black and come from the same power base in Essex County.
The two Republicans running are Steven Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota, and Alieta Eck, a physician who opposes President Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul. Lonegan, who has twice lost gubernatorial primaries, told The Star-Ledger that he would run as a “conservative warrior” who will carve out “’Reagan Democrats from the base of the Democratic Party.”
The Democrat who wins the August primary will be highly favored in the October special election. Chiesa is the first New Jersey Republican in the Senate since 1982, when Governor Tom Kean appointed Nicholas Brady to replace Harrison Williams, who resigned amid scandal. A Republican has not been elected to the Senate in the New Jersey since 1972, the year that marked the Watergate Scandal.
The candidate who wins in October will serve until January 2015. The new senator would have to run again in the fall 2014 elections to serve a full six-year Senate term.
The special election, which is estimated to cost New Jersey’s state budget $24 million, is just three weeks before the regularly scheduled November elections, when Governor Christie will stand for re-election. Many officials agree that the schedule may confuse voters and thus keep them from going to the polls on the special election day. In other words, the race could be won with just a small fraction of votes.