The entry of Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello into the U.S. Senate primary could complicate former Democratic State Chairman Tom Byrne’s decision making process on whether to challenge incumbent Frank Lautenberg.
Byrne analogized the situation to the gubernatorial reelection campaign of his father, Brendan Byrne, in 1977. After having passed the state’s first income tax, Byrne’s poll numbers were dismal, leading eight Democrats to challenge him in the primary. Since people voted based on pro and anti-incumbent feelings, those eight challengers split the anti-incumbent vote, allowing Byrne to squeak through the primary and eventually win re-election.
If the 2008 Democratic Senate primary winds up as no more than a referendum on the incumbent, Byrne said, with half pro and half anti-incumbent, Cresitello could detract just enough of the anti vote to leave the door open for a Lautenberg win.
Still, Byrne said that Cresitello’s would not impact his decision.
“I think this is different, because a guy who runs on an anti-illegal immigraiton platform is going to will at best get only a tiny percentage of votes in a Democratic primary, and therefore I see him as not a factor,” he said.
Byrne is currently pouring over numbers from the poll he commissioned this week. He expects to mull it over the weekend, and will have to make a decision in time to gather 1,000 petition signatures by April 7.
Byrne said that he believes that the Democratic system is working to coalesce around Lautenberg, but he’s also been met with a postitive response.
“I’m getting a lot of phone calls saying ‘Go for it, this is terrific,’” he said.