So much for that. Just when it looked like Frank Lautenberg had dodged a career-threatening bullet, the dams suddenly appear to be breaking.
Rob Andrews, the South Jersey congressman who jolted the New Jersey political world on Monday when he suddenly began flirting with a primary challenge to Lautenberg, has – according to PolitickerNJ.com – made some stunning inroads into North Jersey’s most coveted Democratic turf.
Andrews has now lined up support from Steve Adubato, Sr., an old school party boss from Newark’s North Ward, whose protégé, Joe DiVincenzo, is the Essex County executive. Essex is the top vote-producing county in Democratic primaries, and a ballot spot on its official line is perhaps the most valuable in the state. Adubato, sources previously said, was reluctant to go with Andrews, simply because a Senate primary fight would mean dueling ballot lines for down-ballot candidates, thereby endangering the candidates for county office upon whom Adubato and other machine leaders rely to stay in business.
"When elephants fight, ants get crushed," is how one Essex pro put it.
Adubato’s support of Andrews signals a potential bloodbath in Essex. If Andrews secures the county line, Lautenberg – who is backed by Newark’s mayor, Cory Booker, and other top Essex figures – will field a rival slate. But more likely, the official line will still go to Lautenberg, with Adubato (and possibly DiVincenzo and others) creating their own rival slate headed by Andrews.
There is also word that one of the top Democrats in Middlesex County, state Senator Robert Smith, has also decided to back Andrews, and that Middlesex Democrats will give their line to Andrews. (The county accounts for just over 10 percent of all primary votes.) The Middlesex line is a valuable commodity, though the county’s longtime boss, former state Senate President John Lynch, is now in prison, possibly diluting its worth.
Still, with Middlesex and a viable line in Essex, Andrews now seems to have enough support in North Jersey to supplement his unified South Jersey support (where he would run on the line in counties that constitute about 30 percent of the statewide primary universe).
In other words, it looks like Lautenberg’s journey from safe incumbent to vulnerable and back to safe again has taken yet another turn, and now he looks to be in trouble again. New Jersey is now on the verge of its first contested Democratic primary in eight years.