Timing is everything

Back in the 1950’s, one of the genuine rising stars of New Jersey politics was Adrian Foley, who was 32-years-old when he won a hotly contested race for Essex County Surrogate in 1953. Foley was viewed as statewide material, and Essex Democrats even touted him as a U.S. Senate candidate in 1958 — for the open seat of retiring Republican Senator H. Alexander Smith. When Hudson County Democrats said they would instead back Harrison Williams, who had lost his seat in Congress two years earlier, Foley backed off and became Williams’ campaign chairman. Democrats nearly picked him to challenge U.S. Senator Clifford Case in 1960; the nomination instead went to former U.S. Attorney Thorn Lord, the longtime Mercer County Democratci Chairman and the law partner of future Governor Richard Hughes. Foley was expected to be the Democratic nominee against Case in 1966, but dropped out when he was elected President of the state Constitutional Convention. (His replacement was Warren Wilentz, the scion of a powerful Middlesex County Democratic family.) Former Governor Robert Meyner became the Democratic candidate for Governor in 1969, and by 1972 Case was unbeatable and Foley’s window of opportunity had passed. Foley, now 85, remains active at his Roseland law firm, Connell Foley, which has grown into one of the state’s most prestigious firms. But what if Democrats had picked the 37-year-old Foley to run for the open U.S. Senate seat in 1958 against Republican Robert Winthrop Kean, a 65-year-old ten-term Congressman and father of the future Governor? The sixth year of Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency was a huge Democratic year — they picked up fifteen seats in the United States Senate. Williams beat an overconfident Kean by a 51%-47% margin, so perhaps Foley would have won the seat. Foley would likely have won re-election in 1964 — another big Democratic year, and like most Senators from New Jersey, he would probably have survived efforts to defeat him in the future. Foley could still be in the U.S. Senate; West Virginia’s Robert Byrd, elected in 1958 and four years older than Foley, is still there. And Foley is just three years older than Frank Lautenberg, who might never have had a political career if Democrats had picked Foley and not Williams.

Timing is everything