NJ Names in the Game in the Event of a U.S. Senate Vacancy

Pallone and MacArthur

A lot of buzz now centers on a replacement for U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in the event that the veteran Democrat does not politically survive his upcoming federal corruption trial and takes the count prior to his 2018 reelection.

Menendez’s allies, of course, say he’s dug in, and express every confidence that he will last. But sources – spurred by a delay in the sentencing of Dr. Salomon Melgen – continue to speculate on the possibility of Republican Governor Chris Christie appointing a replacement for Menendez if he cops a deal with the feds sooner rather than later. U.S. Senator John McCain‘s (R-AZ) decision to deprive embattled President Donald J. Trump of a critical vote on healthcare has the President’s champions on the hunt for a GOP seat pickup in the Senate and looking hard at the trial in New Jersey.

If the seat becomes available during Christie’s final months as governor, sources say the governor is likely to appoint Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21) to the position. A longtime Christie loyalist, Bramnick weathered the worst barrages at Christie’s side and remains a sincere apologist of the controversial, scandal-scarred Governor.

U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-3) is another possibility if Bramnick doesn’t want the seat. Rich, aggressively engaged districtwide since his election in 2014, and ambitious, MacArthur stands at the center of the healthcare debate as the prime mover behind the MacArthur Amendment, continues to seek compromise, and has the ear of the White House.

InsiderNJ columnist Alan Steinberg has also speculated on the possibility that Christie might appoint himself.

As for the Democrats, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1) has the support of the powerful South Jersey Democratic Party and his brother, powerbroker George Norcross III, and most probably the Building Trades.

Other names include former U.S. Senator Bob Torricelli, who seeks northern support as a counterweight to Norcross, and U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5), who has impressed northern bosses early in his tenure as congressman.

Then there are some wildcards.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6) wants the job (he did, after all, run for the seat unsuccessfully in 2013). Sources say keep an eye on him because he could emerge as a consensus choice in the event that the North and South can’t reach agreement on a replacement.

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9) and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop get kicked around in conversations, too; as does state Senator M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) and longshot Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz.

So does Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill, former state director for the late U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg and the campaign manager for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy. If Murphy gets elected in November and is the one who makes the call for a replacement in the new year, Gill looks like at least a short list choice as a consequence of his close ties to Murphy and strong regional footing in Essex County.

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