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Not a single primary or caucus vote has been yet cast in the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination sweepstakes. Yet the prospects for a Cory Booker nomination are vanishing rapidly.
The stars and the planets are aligned in New Jersey, however, for a triumphal return of Booker, New Jersey’s junior US Senator to the Garden State, where he will be elected to the governorship in a landslide 2021 victory.
In recent columns, I have given a synopsis of the Democratic presidential race, which bears repeating here, along with some augmentation.
The selection of a presidential nominee by both political parties increasingly resembles the NCAA basketball tournament, where the Final Four is largely a product of what happens at the bracket level. In order to make the presidential nominee Final Four, you must capture control of a major bracket.
The Democratic Final Four is already foreseeable, even before the first primary or caucus vote is cast: 1) Joe Biden, who owns the Mainstream Center-Left lane; 2) Bernie Sanders, who owns the Socialist Progressive lane; 3) Pete Buttigieg, who owns the Rockstar Newcomer lane; and 4) Kamala Harris, who owns the two most rapidly accelerating and passing lanes, the Impeachment lane and the Woman for President lane.
The Kamala Harris candidacy has been recently significantly boosted because of her stellar performance in questioning Attorney General William Barr at the recent Mueller Report hearings. I have given her my mythical Sam Dash award, named after the famed prosecutor for the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973.
Note the absence from my Final Four of three highly publicized candidates who fail to qualify because of their inability to capture control of a viable lane: 1) Elizabeth Warren, who has a rapidly diminishing opportunity of capturing the Socialist Progressive Lane from Bernie Sanders; 2) Beto O’Rourke, who, at least for the time being is placing a distant second to Pete Buttigieg for control of the Rockstar Newcomer lane; and 3) Cory Booker, who is now light years behind Joe Biden in the race for the widest Democratic lane, the Mainstream Center Left. In fact, Biden now has a huge lead in the polls over all the other candidates, including in South Carolina, a must win primary state for Booker.
The only circumstance that could resurrect the Booker candidacy would be a complete Biden meltdown in the forthcoming Democratic presidential debates. It is most unlikely that this will happen.
Finally, there is the growing prospect of a Biden – Harris entente that would spell a denouement to the Booker campaign. As described in Politico yesterday, prominent African-American members of the Congressional Black Caucus are pushing the idea of a Biden Harris ticket.
I don’t know how likely it is that such a Biden-Harris compact will take place. If it does, a Biden nomination becomes a virtual certainty, barring some yet unrevealed scandal.
So the message from the Democratic presidential campaign is “Go home, Cory.” Yet back in the Garden State, there is another message developing, “Come home, Cory, the Democratic Party needs you at Drumthwacket!”
The prospect of a bitter, internecine 2021 Democratic primary war between the forces loyal to Governor Phil Murphy and those led by South Jersey’s George Norcross is now irreversible. Due to the political toxicity of Donald Trump in New Jersey, however, it is unlikely that the Republicans will be able to take advantage in 2021 of the Democratic internal strife. Right now, the New Jersey Republican Party is in an impotent state. The Trump foreign policy lunatic trifecta of tariffs on China, higher oil prices from Iran, and appeasement of North Korea will reduce the NJGOP to the status of a moribund entity.
Control of the executive branch of New Jersey government does not belong just to the governor in question. It also belongs to his or her political party. The county party chairs have an enormous influence on the distribution of appointments, state contracts, and largesse at both the local and state level.
A majority of the 21 county chairs will stay loyal to Phil Murphy and veto the election to the governorship of a Norcross loyalist, like State Senate President Steve Sweeney. Yet they would certainly support an alternative to Phil Murphy as governor if it avoids a mutually destructive 2021 New Jersey Democratic civil war. Although they recognize the weakness of the NJGOP and the likely inability of Republicans to mount a successful gubernatorial challenge in 2021, they are determined to avoid even a small opportunity to Jersey Republicans that an intra-Democratic war may give them.
So virtually all New Jersey Democratic county chairs would enthusiastically welcome an end to the New Jersey Democratic civil war resulting from the emergence of an alternative gubernatorial candidate. Cory Booker is ideal in this regard.
I doubt that there is any Democratic county chair who would not enthusiastically welcome a Cory Booker ascension to the governorship. He would be viewed by them as a friend and honest broker.
And a Booker governorship could serve the interests of George Norcross as well, particularly if a Governor Booker appoints Congressman Donald Norcross, brother of George Norcross, to fill the US Senate vacancy created by Booker’s ascension to the governorship. This would also create an opportunity for Norcross ally Steve Sweeney to run for the House of Representatives seat vacated by Donald Norcross.
But would Booker be willing to run for the governorship in 2021, even if he is the unanimous consensus choice of the party leadership and apparatchiks?
At the beginning, Booker will deny interest in moving from the US Senate to the New Jersey governorship. He may go so far as saying he will even refuse to accept a gubernatorial draft. This is called “taking a Sherman.” It is named after Civil War hero General William Tecumseh Sherman, who when approached by Republican leaders about accepting a draft for the 1884 Republican presidential nomination, responded by saying, ”I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.”
When you have served as the chief executive of a major corporation, state, or major city, you have a taste for power that is not satisfied by membership in the 100-person United States Senate, however exclusive that club may be.
That is why Jon Corzine left a safe lifetime seat in the US Senate to run for Governor of New Jersey. He had the taste of power from having served as CEO of Goldman-Sachs. Service as a US Senator could not satisfy that taste – the governorship of New Jersey could.
Likewise, Cory Booker has the taste for executive power, having served as mayor of Newark, New Jersey’s largest city. It can be satisfied by the powers of the most powerful chief executive in the nation, the Governor of New Jersey.
So I fully anticipate that pressure will grow on Cory Booker to play the role of party peacemaker by running for governor. And I fully expect him at first to make a “Shermanesque” statement, disclaiming any interest in the governorship and pledging himself to refuse any draft.
But when Booker does this, I won’t believe him. I anticipate that residence in Drumthwacket is very much in Cory Booker’s future.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.