Menendez Exit Would Scramble NJ Senate Races

Menendez Exit Would Scramble NJ Senate Races

This weekend, the New York Times editorialized that Senate Majority Leader Reid should remove embattled NJ Senator Bob Menendez from his Chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The paper argued that, until Sen. Menendez adequately addresses recent allegations, he should not be entrusted with the important and powerful position. The Times editorial is a powerful acknowledgment of the seriousness of the questions surrounding Menendez. It even suggests that it is time to consider the implications of Menendez resigning his Senate seat. 

In New Jersey, the Governor appoints a successor to a Senate vacancy who serves until the next regularly scheduled, statewide general election. If, however, the vacancy occurs within 30 days of the primary election for that general, then the successor serves until the following general election. 

New Jersey has statewide elections this year and the primary is scheduled for June 4th. If Menendez resigns, or is removed from office by his colleagues, before May 4th, a successor would serve until the November general this year, when a special election would be held for the remainder of Menendez’s term. If he resigns after that date, a successor would serve until the November general election in 2014. 

Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, could appoint a caretaker to occupy the seat until the election is held or he could appoint someone who would go on to run for that seat. The successor appointed by Christie could be from any party, in spite of the fact that Menendez is a Democrat. Since Christie is up for reelection this year, it is unlikely he would take the provocative step of appointing a Republican to fill the seat.  

A special election this year to fill Menendez’s term could spark a reshuffle of NJ politics. Newark Mayor Cory Booker is planning a run for the Senate in 2014, when the 89 year-old Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s term expires. If Lautenberg chooses to run for reelection and if he were to win, he would be 96 at the end of his next term. It is unlikely he would win a primary against Booker. A special election this year, however, may tempt Booker to move up his political calendar.  

Two Senate races in two years, however, would scramble the state’s politics. Especially since, if Lautenberg retires, both would be open seats. Virtually every federal office holder and many state politicians will be reluctant to let pass such an opportunity.  

Just over a week ago, it seemed premature to game out scenarios where Menendez is forced to resign. Revelations over that past few days, though, suggest that a political earthquake could hit the Garden State. 

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