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N.J. Senate: Corzine Succession Watch

The tightening polls in the New Jersey governor's race have done little to slow the behind-the-scenes maneuvering among the Democratic House delegation for the coveted appointment to the Senate in the event Sen. Jon Corzine (D) pulls out a victory on Nov. 8.

Should Corzine win next month, he will not only be forced to resign from the Senate but he will also be tasked with naming a successor to fill the remaining months of his term.

Corzine seems to have two options -- name a so-called "caretaker" who would serve until the 2006 election and then step aside, or choose a Democrat who plans to run for a full term.

Although Corzine initially expressed support for the caretaker idea, he seems to have backed off somewhat in the face of criticism by national party leaders who warned that such a move would jeopardize Democrats' chances of holding the seat. Republicans are rallying behind state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. -- the son of popular former governor Tom Kean (R).

If Corzine is resolved to appoint someone who would run for a full term in 2006, there appear to be five legitimate choices available to him:

1) Acting Gov. Dick Codey: While Codey has not been Sherman-eqsue about his lack of interest in an appointment, he has made it clear it's not high on his priority list. "I don't want to go there," Codey recently said of Washington. But Codey could come under serious pressure from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to make the race. Schumer and Codey recently crossed paths and the topic was broached -- albeit briefly.

2) 13th District Rep. Bob Menendez: Menendez has long been considered the frontrunner for a Corzine appointment. Menendez is currently serving as the co-chairman of Corzine's gubernatorial campaign and has already visited 16 of the state's 21 counties this year.  Menendez is also sitting on $4 million in his House campaign account, which would provide a nice financial jumpstart to a Senate race. "Should there be a vacancy in the Senate it's something he is very interested in," said Menendez spokesman Matt Miller. "He has worked hard this year to be in a position to run if the seat opens up."

The biggest strike against Menendez is his affiliation with the Hudson County Democratic Party, which in the words of Roll Call columnist Stu Rothenberg is "synonymous with political corruption and old-style machine politics." That may be anathema to Corzine, who is running on a message of cleaning up the state's politics.

3) 1st District Rep. Rob Andrews: Andrews, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1997, believes that the best way to position himself for a potential appointment is to work to ensure that Corzine is elected next month. "Any Democrat more focused on next year than this year is making a mistake I'm not making," he said. Even so, Andrews is making sure his bases are covered. He sent out a mailing in late August declaring his intention to run for Senate if Corzine is elected governor. In an interview late last week, Andrews was a bit more vague, noting that he would definitely run if a caretaker were appointed, adding that "if [Corzine] appoints someone who intends to run for the seat I will keep my options open but obviously [would] have to assess the probabilities of such a race."

4) 6th District Rep. Frank Pallone: Pallone, like Menendez, is taking an activist approach to the Senate appointment campaign. He has held weekly press conferences for the past 39 weeks all over the state in an effort to increase his visibility. Pallone, who was the first member of the Democratic House delegation to endorse the 2004 presidential candidacy of former Vermont governor Howard Dean, is also seeking to tap into the grassroots activists involved in the Dean campaign to turn out the vote on behalf of Corzine, according to a source close to Pallone. "He is taking it to the voters," said the source of Pallone's strategy. Pallone is likely to seek the nomination in 2006 only if Corzine were to name a caretaker for his unfinished term.

5) 12th District Rep. Rush Holt: Holt is the dark horse of the field, a role he has played to a tee since upsetting then Rep. Mike Pappas in 1998 to claim the central New Jersey congressional seat. Holt and Corzine are close personally, according to informed sources; Holt was asked by Corzine to host the kickoff event for his gubernatorial bid. Holt backers paint him as the real reform choice, pointing to his work to develop paper trails for all electronic voting machines as an example of his good-government leanings.  Holt dismissed the idea of campaigning for the appointment, which would be decided by an "electorate of one" if Corzine wins the governor's race.  "The best thing I can do is do a good job at what I am doing and make sure Jon Corzine knows it," Holt said.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 18, 2005; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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