It’s a Wonderful Life, Marie Muhler

If about 900 people in Monmouth County had changed their minds and voted for Marie Muhler instead of Jim Howard, history could have been different. One political pundit suggests that had Muhler won the central New Jersey House seat in 1980, she could have emerged as the Republican candidate for United States Senator in 1988. No one will ever know whether Muhler would have unseated the incumbent, Frank Lautenberg, who was then seeking re-election to his second term — although the argument that a moderate woman from Monmouth County would have been a stronger statewide contender than General Peter Dawkins (who lost 54%-46%) is entirely plausible. George H.W. Bush carried New Jersey that year by 422,840 votes. Had Muhler ousted Lautenberg in 1988, she would likely have been a favorite to win re-election to a second term in the very Republican year of 1994 — although that may have been a race to watch: would the ambitious Bob Torricelli, anxious to run statewide and unaware of Bill Bradley’s pending retirement, have been the Democratic candidate. Muhler may have been much more vulnerable in 2000, although its possible that Wall Street megamillionaire Jon Corzine might not have been as interested in running against a two-term incumbent. That may have put set up a race between Muhler and Robert Menendez. And as long as it’s a Friday afternoon, what might the 1988 contest for Muhler’s open House seat have looked like? The same pundit who had Muhler running statewide says it would have been the same as it was — with Democratic State Senator Frank Pallone and former GOP Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina facing off. Pallone won 52%-48%, beating Azzolina by 9,548 votes out of more than 124,000 cast. But Azzolina outspent Pallone by $303,243 — perhaps the benefit of a hometown Congresswoman running for U.S. Senate would have changed the results of this race? For extreme political junkies, the ones who have actually read this far along: When Muhler ran a second time for Congress in 1982, her campaign Political Director was 22-year-old Joseph Kyrillos. She fell from 49% to 36%.