Sen. Frank Lautenberg was a legend in New Jersey politics with national name recognition.
Even as his health failed his Democratic colleagues counted on his vote as they did just last month, when an aide pushed a wheelchair bound Lautenberg to attend a committee meeting.
But behind the scenes, politicians and pundits alike in the Garden State have for months been discussing a future without Lautenberg.
He was 89 – and announced in February that he would not run for re-election next year.
To that end, the spotlight is now on Gov. Chris Christie – who has wide discretion on what to do next.
He has the option to call a special election this fall, or to appoint someone to serve out the rest of Lautenberg’s term until the regularly scheduled general election next year.
“Once that special election is announced, you’re gonna see a lott of conversation, maybe a lot of infighting within the parties – across the parties. Unless the governor says I’m gonna allow the replacement to fill out the term. So at least it will push off a lot of that anger and frustration”, Political analyst Basil Smikle told Pix11’s Jay Dow.
Conventional wisdom says Christie would appoint a Republican to help bolster the GOP’s ranks in the contentious senate, where 60 votes are needed to overcome a filibuster.
But what if Christie — who has a habit of going against the grain, especially when provoked — decided to appoint his friend, Newark Mayor Cory Booker?
The nationally renowned politician recently told PIX11’s Mario Diaz — before Lautenberg’s passing — that he is running for his seat.
“National republicans would excoriate Chris Christie for appointing someone like Cory Booker because Cory is a unifying force among democrats nationally. But in terms of republicans, they are going to regret the decision to put Christie on the national stage at the convention. They’re going to regret they’re embrace of him, and it would be really difficult to run for president of the united states and get out of a primary – should he decide to do that,” said Smikle.
What’s more likely — analysts say — is that Christie will play to his base and appoint a republican, during a year in which he’s also running for re-election as New Jersey’s governor.
This debate will unfold against the backdrop of the unique and unusual friendship between Newark’s democratic mayor and new jersey’s republican governor. Given the fact that Christie is now at the heart of this succession story -there is no reason to believe that any of this will be predictable.