For Baroni’s seat: Bencivengo or Goodwin for GOP, Greenstein or DeAngelo for Dems?

The surprise announcement that Bill Baroni (R-Hamilton) will leave the State Senate to become Gov. Christopher Christie’s guy at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will trigger a November 2010 special election in one of the state’s most politically competitive legislative districts – and possibly a referendum on Christie’s first ten months as governor.

The race will ignite an early electoral battle between Republicans and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford), who will almost certainly spend a huge amount of money to capture the Senate seat.  Democrats viewed Baroni as unbeatable in 2011, but his move up the ladder to a top post on Christie’s team puts the seat in play.

Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo and Councilman Thomas Goodwin are the most likely contenders to fill Baroni’s seat.  Republican County Committee from the seven towns in the fourteenth district will hold a special election, probably next month.  The new Senator will take office immediately and run as an incumbent.

Baroni’s pending resignation sets up a potential fight for the Democratic nomination, as Democrats seeks to pick up another Senate seat one year before the mid-term election and legislative redistricting.  Six-term Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) and two-term Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-Hamilton) are likely to be the leading candidates in the special.  Neither would need to risk their Assembly seats to run for Senate; if Democrats win, the Democratic County Committee would hold another special election convention to appoint a new Assembly member.

When Republican Peter Inverso retired in 2007, Baroni moved quickly to secure key labor endorsements that essentially muscled Greenstein out of the Senate race. In the general election, he beat former state Rate Counsel Seema Singh by a 62%-38% margin.  Greenstein easily won re-election, and DeAngelo edged out Goodwin by 821 votes. 

In 2009, Greenstein (18,988) and DeAngelo (18,531) beat back challenges from Republicans Rob Calabro (16,146) and Bill Harvey (15,341).  Christie carried the district, which has the state’s largest public employee population, 48%-46%, despite huge support for Gov. Jon Corzine by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA).

Greenstein could get scared out of the race again, especially if Sweeney has a preference for DeAngelo, a fellow labor guy who has a local base in Hamilton, the largest town in the district.  The CWA and the NJEA might prefer Greenstein, especially if the split between public employees and blue collar laborers, continues.  To prevail, Greenstein will need the organization line in her home county, Middlesex (putting Democratic State Chairman John Wisniewski in a bind if Sweeney and party leader George Norcross want DeAngelo), and support from West Windsor. 

If Bencivengo takes the Senate seat, it would also set up a 2010 special election for Mayor of Hamilton – possibly between Goodwin and Mercer County Freeholder Daniel Benson.  Benson and Freeholder John Cimino would be the leading candidates for an open Assembly seat.  If Goodwin goes to the Senate, there will be a special election in November for his Council seat.