Legend has it that many State Senators view themselves as gubernatorial material, but historically incumbent New Jersey legislators are often unsuccessful in their campaigns for Governor. Over the last fifty years, only four incumbent legislators — State Senators Malcolm Forbes (1957), Wayne Dumont (1965), Raymond Bateman (1977) and James E. McGreevey (1997) — have won gubernatorial primaries, and all four have lost their general elections. The last time someone went directly from the Legislature to Governor was in 1928, when Morgan Larson, a Republican State Senator from Middlesex County, won. No incumbent member of the New Jersey State Assembly has ever been elected Governor.
Sitting legislators to lose gubernatorial primaries: Paul DiGaetano in 2005, Alan Karcher, Chuck Hardwick, William Gormley and Gerald Cardinale in 1989; John Russo in 1985; Frank Dodd, William Hamilton, Joseph Merlino, Barry Parker, James Wallwork, and Anthony Imperiale in 1981; Thomas Kean and Raymond Garramone in 1977; Ralph DeRose and Ann Klein in 1973; Harry Sears, Frank McDermott and William Kelly in 1969; Charles Sandman in 1965; and Walter Jones in 1961.
While it has been nearly eighty years since an incumbent legislator became Governor, six of the last ten Governors had served in the Legislature.
State legislators fare even worse in races for the United States Senate. State Senators Diane Allen and John Matheussen lost the 2002 Senate primary, as did Bill Gormley in 2000, Richard LaRossa in 1996, and Frank Guarini in 1970.
The last sitting legislator to win a U.S. Senate seat was William Smathers, a freshman Democratic State Senator from Atlantic County who unseated an incumbent Republican in 1936. Since Smathers’ election, only three legislators have won U.S. Senate nominations — Senate Minority Whip Thomas Kean, Jr. in 2006, Assembly Speaker Garabed “Chuck” Haytaian in 1994 and William Ely, a Democratic State Senator from Bergen County in 1938. Ely lost to Republican Warren Barbour, who mounted a successful comeback after losing his seat to Smathers two years earlier.
(For extreme junkies: Smathers was the uncle of George Smathers, an Atlantic City native who won a Florida congressional seat in 1946 and a U.S. Senate seat in 1950 when he beat Claude Pepper in the Democratic primary.)