1. Bob Menendez
Slowed by an indictment and teetering as he tries to scramble to safety on the other side of a corruption trial, the senior U.S. Senator from New Jersey can stem the inevitable bubbling of ambition under him with a strong docket showing.
2. Steve Sweeney
Now at the edge of the general election season, the Senate President from LD3 once again will don the Napoleonic bicorn hat and look for advantages statewide. What he does in LD2 and LD11 especially will have statewide repercussions. If he wins in the latter, he could find himself heading back to a 25-15 Democratic-advantage senate chamber. But he also has to fend off an NJEA-muscled candidate in his home district.
3. Brian Stack
He’s got everyone where he wants them: those above and those below. The Hoboken contestants in one of the most-watched races in the state all want to kiss the 33rd District senator’s ring. “I just want Brian to like me,” one of them recently confessed to InsiderNJ, not bothering to add a surname for context. For now, Stack continues to play coy. Then there are those allies of gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy, who couldn’t help but notice the obscene numbers Stack put up in the Democratic Primary. If the 33rd District animal can project a Jumbotron highlight reel like that again in a general election and stretch Murphy’s win by a digit or two, he may forever endear himself to the former Ambassador of Germany.
4. Brendan Gill
The Bruce Wayne/Batman personality plays mild-mannered Essex County freeholder by evening, then – for much of the rest of the time – morphs into ruthless political operative and statewide strategist as part of the Phil Murphy for Governor brain bubble. Part of the intrigue in state politics right now centers around whether Gill will finally fully occupy one of the two halves of these split personalities and settle into the role of silver-haired kindly congressman – or silver-tongued behind-the-scenes pit viper. He’s truly influential. We’re hearing he’s going to the administration, probably as chief of staff, just to get Murphy off the ground. But that’s unconfirmed.
5. Craig Coughlin
The Middlesex County Democratic Committee Chairman Kevin McCabe-backed brand name from the 19th District this week appeared to coffin nail any hope Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) has of regaining a rostrum toehold.
6. Jen Beck
It all comes down to Beck, the 11th District Republican state senator, who lost her running mates two years ago, who will try to hold off former Monmouth County Democratic Chairman Vin Gopal in the November general election.
7. Tom Kean, Jr.
He’s in the mix, particularly as it relates to Sweeney and the NJEA. How he manages the Republican Senate Campaign Fund will impact results in several key legislative districts this year, including 2, 11, and maybe 38 and 16. This too – if Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) goes down on corruption charges, will Kean really let Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21) – the man Kean put in the Assembly seat – leapfrog him to get to a position of statewide power? Kean wanted that office once (remember his 2006 loss to Menendez?), and most sources say he has one statewide crack left in him.
8. Kim Guadagno
Captaining a very sharp elbowed campaign, the Lieutenant Governor pulled off a 15-point win over Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli in the GOP Primary for Governor. She now faces the prospect of trying to unify her party against a very well positioned rival Democratic Party led by nominee Phil Murphy. She’s down by as many as 27 points, according to Quinnipiac and could find herself Ahabing a disastrous shipwreck for the GOP unless she can shake off the 16% albatross of Chris Christie.
9. Steven Fulop
Mayor of the state’s most populous city, up for reelection this year in what looks like a bore snore. With Stack’s help, he appears to be running away with it, but his enemies want council seats. He controls the local governing body 6-3. If he suffers losses he could find himself weakened even as he seeks to flex his muscles citywide.
10. Sheila Oliver
The Assemblywoman from the 34th District emerged this summer as Phil Murphy’s choice for lieutenant governor. Murphy’s selection of Oliver says a lot about his strategic decision to shore up Essex County, where Democrats own the largest numbers of registered voters of any county in the state. It’s no accident that Oliver hails from East Orange, home of Essex County Democratic Chairman Leroy Jones, and a mecca for political organization.
11. Nick Scutari
The intellectually hyper-kinetic state senator from the 22nd District – chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee – turned himself into a household name this year with his bullhorn-style advocacy for recreational marijuana. Keep an eye on him. Scours continue to hum about Scutari’s capacity to emerge as a consensus name if Sweeney gets dented or has to step aside to clear the way for a U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1) shot at U.S. Senate – and leadership bedlam prevails.
12. Cory Booker
As New Jersey prepares for a state government election, this is not his time right now. But national politics inevitably commands attention with Donald J. Trump in power. Booker’s defined himself on the national stage as probably the most obvious anti-Trump individual in U.S. politics. If the president’s default facial expression is a pulped scarlet scowl, Booker walks around with a look of Joel Osteen-like loving wonderment, tempered only occasionally by that Kirk-on-the-bridge-of-the-Enterprise stare into space that conjures faraway visionary among wretched mortals. But is he too nice for the job? Will he end up pulling a jujitsu move on someone like Ben Sasse in the senate cloakroom just to prove he’s not beyond showing a Tysonesque mean streak just in case Putin “rears his head”?
13. Jon Bramnick
If he ever decides to pull the ripcord on a statewide run, the Assembly Republican leader has a chance now in difficult political weather to prove himself. It may prove too heavy a lift, with home district distractions afoot in the Westfield Mayor’s race coupled with a too-damaged Chris Christie to give him the tools he needs to work with, but he will
14. Chris Christie
The question becomes, how accurate are polls that show him under 20%? A useful Phil Murphy punching bag to this point, the lamed governor is relevant – by default. The question becomes, has he truly so stained and besmirched the GOP brand in this state, and further flattened the chances of his party by refusing to ever let Guadagno get out of her shell that the GOP will sustain a horrific down ballot beat down? If guard-dogging a piece of his political legacy is part of his plan, he may have to foxhole himself with Guadagno for the duration. But she can’t possibly want that, unless she calculates that Christie-Guadagno for the history books outweighs the importance of Guadagno 2017.
15. Joe Cryan
When the Sheriff of Union County (probable successor to Ray Lesniak this year in the 20th district)endorsed Sweeney, that appeared to end the rebellion. But the foxy political animal and former state party chairman is close to Phil Murphy and Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin McCabe and will play a large role going forward in all party decisions in Trenton. Watch him.
16. Nia Gill
With Oliver packing her bags on the 34th District, Senator Gill will rule the roost, and have Jones’ ear on a successor (see below).
17. Josh Gottheimer
After his gay slur in caucus, the GOP seemed happy to get rid of the human anvil otherwise known as Scott Garrett in the 5th Congressional District. They’d endure Democrat Gottheimer for two years then revert the district to its natural Republican shape in 2018. But the Trump debacle has complicated that plan, and as the congressman constituent services the hell out the 5th, Gottheimer seems more happily disposed than anybody. Had Hillary Clinton won, he’d be the most miserable person in New Jersey’s congressional delegation. As is, he’s whistling while he works – and now he has the Garrett-like Steve Lonegan to run against next year if Lonegan squiggles through a GOP Primary.
18. Don Guardian
The Republican mayor of Atlantic City faces reelection this year against the backdrop of the state takeover of his embattled gaming mecca.
19. Frank Gilliam
Gilliam beat Councilman Marty Small in June’s Democratic Primary, and now has a shot for it all against Mayor Don Guardian in the general. GN3 wants him in there. So does Sweeney.
20. Chris Brown
The pro-labor, independent-minded and anti-AC takeover Assemblyman from LD2 scared Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-2) from the senate seat, and now must get through former Freeholder (and by the time of the election, Senator) Colin Bell.
21. Donald Norcross
The 1st District Democratic Congressman could make a move on the U.S. senate seat if Menendez falters.
22. John McCormac
Swap McCormac for Sacco. The Mayor of Woodbridge is at the core of the Middlesex political operation that got behind Murphy for Governor early – and he’s the mayor who made Coughlin. Woodbridge is the new North Bergen.
23. Carlos Rendo
Guadagno generally received high marks for selecting the Republican Mayor of Woodcliff Lake as her running mate.
24. Tom MacArthur
With his eye on a speedy zoom up the GOP ranks in his home state, the CD3 congressman gambled with a national-sized move by getting behind the so-called MacArthur Amendment to break the Gordian Knot on Trump’s healthcare overhaul. It gave him a Rose Garden moment – and exposure as a guy willing to put his neck on the line. But it also put him at the vanguard of Obamacare haters and will potentially galvanize those warpaint-wearing challengers motivated to reassert CD3 as a Democratic-controlled district. A fascinating note: the late U.S. Rep. John Adler (D-3) voted against Obamcare and narrowly lost the 3rd District seat in 2010 after just one term. Can one of the chief architects of the Affordable Care Act as we knew it lose his seat because he voted for its repeal? Every move MacArthur makes now is akin to watching Nik Wallenda at work. He labored commendably in the lion’s den when he went to Willingboro for a post-vote town hall, but he also looked a little gnawed on, too, on the other side of that encounter. Whatever the other dynamics of this campaign cycle, Bramnick and MacArthur are fighting for sole occupancy of the throne of the soul of that once proud, Christie-shredded institution known as the New Jersey Republican Party.
25. Joe DiVincenzo
The Essex County executive’s up for reelection next year and will want to drive big numbers out of Essex for Phil Murphy – particularly if Jim Johnson decides to take an off-the-line run at him. Joe D. will be that person ultimately most responsible for nibbling at Jones’ (and Passaic County Democratic Chairman John Currie’s) ears regarding a challenger to Frelinghuysen. If the U.S. Senate stuff proves undecided, to, DiVincenzo will get a chance to weigh in there too.
26. Anibal Ramos
The Proximo-like kingmaker of Newark can essentially coronate Mayor Baraka’s reelection just by placing his hand on his shoulder. Amplify that if scandal touches the Baraka Administration or any connective tissue close to the mayor, who counts Ramos as a close friend. Close to Joe D, the North Ward councilman’s also the North Ward elected official most wired into GOTV operations.
27. Ras Baraka
The mayor of Newark is up for reelection next year. No one appears strong enough to take him down, but he could always stumble – and there are rumblings (not around him) but around those close to him.
28. Britnee Timberlake
The Essex County Freeholder is close to powerful Essex County Democratic Chairman Leroy Jones and could be that go-to person for that assembly seat vacated by Sheila Oliver if the latter becomes lieutenant governor.
29. Chris James
The East Orange councilman will be auditioning with Timberlake for the Oliver seat, and every move will be scrutinized by Jones and Gill.
30. Rodney Frelinghuysen
Jim Morrison once said no one gets out of here alive, and that really is true in political terms when you consider the Republican Congressman from the 11th District. He’s run out of leafy shrubbery to hide behind in Harding, with candidates enraged by Trump theatrics and Rodney’s own compounding high jinks, lining up hip-deep to run against him. No one cared about Frelinghuysen three years ago. Now the guy can’t sip a diet soft drink without people trying to interpret some deep political meaning.
31. Keith Kazmark
The Mayor of Woodland Park is feeling out a run against Frelinghuysen and has considerable rank and file support in his home county of Passaic.
32. Shaun Golden
The activity of the sheriff from Monmouth County who doubles as chairman of the Monmouth County GOP will prove critical to Guadagno on Election Day. Will he go all out, or treat the gubernatorial election as a friendly game of darts?
33. Dennis Levinson
The Atlantic County executive doesn’t tilt at windmills. He builds them.
34. Bob Smith
The mastermind from Middlesex quietly engineers most of the heavy lift political items in his county, and has always maintained close working relations with the birds in South Jersey. Coughlin’s ascent empowers him. In a word. Smith. Relevant.
35. Bob Gordon
Rumored to be headed for the Murphy Administration, the 38th District Senator’s strong showing in his home town of Fair Lawn can help flip local control to Democrats and notch another win for his party in Bergen.
36. Kip Bateman
The veteran senator from the 16th District has stepped up his game this year in anticipation of same-district Democratic rival Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker’s reelection efforts and a likely dump truck of Dem money in the 16th, where there are other nettlesome dynamics as well.
37. Dick Codey
The former governor received new life as one of the prime political movers behind the reanimation of the kind of guy whose money heartbreakingly prevented Codey from carrying on behind the constraints of being acting governor, this time with the twist of being likeable, Irish American and a natural Codey ally. For months in the lead-up to their mutual destruction, the campaigns of Murphy’s rivals said the bosses would never get behind the former ambassador to Germany (and, like Corzine, a former Goldman Sachs executive) because the presence of Codey in his locker room would infuriate GN3. It never happened. Murphy stepped over those objections – with the re-empowering Codey.
38. Ron Rice
No one pushes the 28th District senator around, which is a big deal in New Jersey politics. He says whatever the hell he wants whenever the hell he wants. That’s power. He’s also taken an interest in LD11, where Beck continues to deploy him – apparently for political purposes.
39. Andrew Zwicker
The Princeton physicist who won his 2015 election by fewer than 100 votes – a Democrat and arguably the smartest guy in the legislature on paper with the possible exception of Herb Conaway – will try to get his seat back in the face of come-backing GOP Assemblywoman Donna Simon and Somerset County Freeholder Mark Caliguire.
40. Joe Vitale
Chair of the Senate Health Committee, Vitale – one of McCormac’s local allies in Woodbridge – finds himself empowered with Coughlin in the speaker’s chair.
41. Leonard Lance
In the ultimate drunken sailor on the deck of the Morro Castle theater piece, after years of running rightward following the public excoriation he endured for voting aye on cap and trade, the 7th District Congressman now scrambles leftward, starting with his nay vote on Obamacare repeal. The pro knows he has to dance to survive in a district that for years presented him with the thankless task of having to face the GOP Primary efforts of a self-described 2nd Amendment fierce gentleman farmer who proudly packed heat. Now it’s a bullhorn-wielding Joey Novick at the head of a barbarian army on the left that has the congressman on the move. He’s working it. Every move bears a pointillist painter’s significance in the grander political scheme. No one’s watching him more closely than his own party, and if the polling looks grim come 2018, there’s a judge’s robe with his name on it ready to be unpacked. Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean (R-21) may be weary of mouldering in the minority. Then there’s retiring Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-16), who’s already showed an impatience with waiting in line. Lance has never worked harder than now.
42. Bill Pascrell
The veteran Congressman from the 9th district continues to bronco bust Trump’s tax return, and looks like an aggressive heads-up ballplayer now with the appointment of Bob Mueller as special prosecutor.
43. John McKeon
Auditioning for a spot in the administration and leading the short list to head the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the assemblyman has spread-eagled himself in terms of political relevance to fill district, federal and state-level pockets of conversation. In Trenton, he’s on top of things and regularly making headlines as a feisty, don’t-you-dare-pull-any-shenanigans-in-here chair of the Judiciary Committee.
44. Anthony Romano
The Hudson County Freeholder has the most naturally cohered political base in the Hoboken mayoral war.
45. Ravi Bhalla
Backed by outgoing Mayor Dawn Zimmer, the Hoboken Councilman is taking stab at the mayoralty.
46. Jen Giattino
The Council President of Hoboken wants to be mayor, but she’s a Republican in a 4-1 Democratic advantage town.
47. Mike DeFusco
An upstart on the city council, DeFusco has turned the most heads among those running for mayor with his hard-edged, aggressive style.
48. Jeff Van Drew
The 1st District state senator has arguably built himself into the most unbeatable brand in South Jersey.
49. Eliana Pintor Marin
The Ironbound Assemblywoman will succeed Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36) as Assembly Budget Chair as part of the deal to make Coughlin Speaker.
50. Nick Sacco
He lost the war with Stack in terms of raw GOTV, and lost the speaker’s war to Coughlin, but the respected 32nd District senator has strong relationships (and universal respect) among the other mayors and leaders of Hudson County, Stack included.
51. Vincent Prieto
In a “Trenton ain’t big enough for the two of us” leadership showdown with Sweeney, the speaker did an impressive job of constantly differentiating himself from the South Jersey crowd. A couple of years ago, more than a few people mistook him for the lunk-headed sergeant tasked with doing all the dangerous recon missions for then-North Jersey battalion commander Steven Fulop. But even after the Jersey City mayor’s short-circuiting, Prieto carried on in the role of independent injun country specialist, eschewing those safety first precautions that might endear him to the ever-imposing GN3 and company. Yet his appointment of Joey Muniz to the Horizon board and subsequent fumbling away of the speakership greatly diminished his standing on this list.
52. Vince Mazzeo
The helluva nice-guy Assemblyman wants another term in the legislature and must get through a requisite tough sledding general.
53. Joe Kyrillos
They play it close to the vest in Monmouth County. The retiring 13th District Republican senator is said to be very close to Phil Murphy, the Democratic nominee for governor, and could surface in a Murphy Cabinet.
54. Al Anthony
Popular in West Essex, the Livingston elected official, a Democrat, is sizing up a run at Frelinghuysen.
55. Jason Sarnoski
The Republican Warren County Freeholder wants to run against Gottheimer. With Bergen County’s Lonegan already in the race, will he don the West Jersey warpaint?
56. John Bartlett
In the intra-party fight to block out helicopter pilot Mikie Sherrill, Passaic County Freeholder Bartlett has already launched his campaign for Congress to represent the Democratic Party in a general election scrap with Frelinghuysen.
57. John Burzichelli
The 3rd District assemblyman is one of the smartest political operatives in Trenton and an important Sweeney ally. The NJEA money dump in LD3 will throw Burzichelli into party mode, where he thrives.
58. Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins
An early backer of Murphy for Governor, Newark’s Central Ward Councilwoman took a hit when Murphy stepped over her to endorse the reelection of Brick City Mayor Ras Baraka. But she’s still off the reservation, and if Baraka stumbles she’ll be there in 2018.
59. Benji Wimberly
One of the few assembly people in the state who commands a legitimate, armed and dangerous power base. The legendary football coach turned politician is most people’s choice to serve as Mayor of Paterson, but he apparently won’t do it.
60. Alex Mendez
As indicted Paterson Mayor Jose “Joey’ Torres flounders, Mendez presents himself as the 2018 favorite to graduate from the third floor to the second floor of City Hall.
61. Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey
Running with fellow Democrat Vin Gopal, they’re up for reelection in the 11th District, the state’s truest 2017 battleground.
62. Bill McCoy
The Paterson councilman will run for mayor next year of the dysfunctional, scandal-riddled city.
63. M. Teresa Ruiz
You always have to keep the name of the 29th district senator – respected chair of the Senate Education Committee – in the mix when discussions turn to possible successors to Sweeney. We’re not saying Sweeney’s going anywhere, but if he does Ruiz could emerge from the north.
64. Lou Greenwald
The smart (and smartly dressed) assembly Majority Leader from LD6 can stride around the statehouse with renewed vigor now that his nemesis, Prieto, looks doomed.
65. Herb Conaway
Rumored to be conversations for a health-related cabinet post, the chair of the Assembly Health Committee – like Vitale – will ultimately have to untangle any ACA repeal impacts at the state level.
66. Linda Greenstein
It’s a general election season, which means that the 14th District Senator will be in gear as she pursues reelection with her Democratic running mates Assemblymen Dan Benson and Wayne DeAngelo. The D’s want to regain control of Hamilton, which in part fuels Greenstein’s organizational effort – that and self-preservation.
67. Kelly Yaede
The Republican Mayor of Hamilton will try to stave off Democratic advances in what was once the ultimate New Jersey bellwether town – pre- Christie.
68. Ileana Schirmer
The Republican councilwoman from Hamilton is running an in-your-face, anti-tax campaign against Greenstein in the 14th District.
69. Frank LoBiondo
Harried in Trump world, does the moderate CD2 Republican linchpin even run again next year?
70. Frank Pallone
Watch the Congressman from the 6th District in the months ahead. Maybe he’s happy now in muscled up mode in the U.S. House of Representatives, but if next year turns into a fight for a U.S. Senate seat, the third time just might be the charm for Pallone, who is already being whispered fervently as a consensus choice.
71. Andre Sayegh
On the bubble of a 2018 mayoral election year, Paterson Ward Councilman Sayegh will have to make a decision about whether or not he runs citywide again.
72. Marty Small
Vanquished in the Democratic Primary for Atlantic City Mayor, to what lengths will Small now go to put his fingerprints on the citywide general election outcome?
73. Tom Lankey
Once written off as a one termer, the mayor of Edison can make a big statement by beating his longtime nemesis, former Democratic Party Chairman turned Republican candidate for Mayor Keith Hahn with an Election Day win.
74. Loretta Weinberg
The senate majority leader still commands the biggest forces when it comes to progressive causes.
75. Jim Tedesco
There were rumors of a projects-irritated Joe Sanzari challenging him, but the Bergen County Executive looks too strong – and the Bergen GOP too weak – to expect a real contest. Time will tell.
For June’s list, please go here.