Bob Decheine probably wouldn’t know how to get from Haworth to Hawthorne, but he’s very much in control of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in New Jersey. His power comes from his day job as Chief of Staff to Congressman Steven Rothman, who has emerged as the leader of the state Obama campaign. And Rothman’s lead in a PolitickerNJ.com online poll of which New Jersey Democrat has the most political power today appears to be the result of Obama’s surge as a national candidate.
Rothman became the first of fourteen Congressmen from a northeastern state to endorse Obama when he announced his support on July 25, 2007 – to a mostly puzzled crowd of New Jersey Democrats who didn’t understand why the potential statewide aspirant was bucking the rest of the party establishment by not supporting Hillary Clinton. If Obama becomes President, Rothman’s clout in New Jersey politics – which comes from a Washington-insider power base rather than the traditional Trenton one – would expand considerably. Between a friend in the White House and a seat on the House Appropriations Committee, Rothman would indeed be powerful.
Of course, Rothman would still be a member of the House, and his ability to dictate key appointments, i.e. federal judges and prosecutors, would still fall a little below that of a United States Senator — even though Robert Menendez is an active Clinton backer and Frank Lautenberg remains hopeful that the nomination process will end before he has to actually pick a horse.
The last time a House member was in charge of a presidential campaign was in 1980, when James Howard was the Chairman of Ted Kennedy’s New Jersey presidential campaign. Governor Brendan Byrne was backing the re-election of Jimmy Carter. Senator Bill Bradley refused to endorse, and Senator Harrison Williams was under indictment.