24 years ago this week, two U.S. Senators died

For twenty years, Republican Clifford Case and Democrat Harrison Williams served together as United States Senators from New Jersey. Case sought re-election to a fifth term in 1978, but narrowly lost the Republican primary to a little-known conservative, former Reagan speechwriter Jeffrey Bell. Bell lost the general election to Bill Bradley by a 55%-45% margin, but many pundits believe that Case would have won the general election had he been the nominee. Williams’ political career ended after an FBI sting operation videotaped him accepting a bribe. Williams resigned on March 11, 1982, just as the Senate was about to begin a vote to expel him. Case, who taught Political Science at Rutgers University after leaving the Senate, died on just six days earlier. Had Case won re-election in 1978, newly-elected Governor Thomas Kean would have had the opportunity to make two appointments to the United States Senate. New Jersey voters would have then elected two U.S. Senators in the 1982 election, with separate campaigns for a six-year term and a two-year unexpired term. Republicans were were feeling optimistic about their chances in 1982. Ronald Reagan had easily carried New Jersey in 1980 and Kean, albeit narrowly, had won election as Governor. Since their Watergate era losses, Republicans had picked up four congressional seats, eight State Senate seats and 23 seats in the State Assembly. Four candidates were seeking support for the GOP Senate nomination: Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick, Congressman James Courter, former Republican State Chairman David Norcross (who had run against Williams in 1976), and Bell. Congressman James Florio, who had lost the Governor’s race to Kean by just 1,797 votes statewide, was viewed as the strongest Democratic candidate, but he declined to run. Kean carefully mulled his options in appointing a Republican to replace Williams, with the U.S. Senate seat remaining vacant for four weeks before Kean finally arrived at a decision. Courter and Bell had played prominent roles in Kean’s ’81 primary campaign, and Fenwick and Norcross had worked for Kean’s campaign against Florio. Ultimately, Kean was unwilling to create a situation where his party would run an incumbent in the ’82 general election at the risk of choosing between friends. He appointed Nicholas Brady, an unknown Wall Street investment banker and family friend, as a caretaker, allow Republicans to choose between Fenwick and Bell in the June primary. The Democrats, without a clear front-runner, nominated a self-funding millionaire businessman, Frank Lautenberg, who defeated two former Congressmen in the primary, and after a rather well-run campaign, Fenwick in the general. Case remains the last Republican to win a United States Senate seat in New Jersey. Footnote: Case’s 1978 primary campaign was managed by Anthony Ciciatiello, who first came to New Jersey in 1974 to run Kean’s campaign for Congress. Kean ran for the open seat being vacated by eleven-term Republican Peter Frelinghuysen (the father of the current Congressman), but lost the primary to Fenwick by just 84 votes. Ciciatiello directed President Gerald Ford’s New Jersey campaign in 1976 (Ford carried the state over Jimmy Carter by 65,000 votes) and then ran Kean’s unsuccessful campaign for Governor in 1977 against State Senator Raymond Bateman. Ciciatiello eventually formed a lobbying and public relations firm, and is now an advisor to Tom Kean, Jr.’s U.S. Senate campaign.

24 years ago this week, two U.S. Senators died