Rob Andrews will return for his eleventh term in Congress next year, and after losing two statewide races, it's unclear whether the last will be the final one.
Andrews ran a close second in the 1997 Democratic gubernatorial primary against James E. McGreevey, was passed over to succeed Gov. Corzine in the Senate, and mounted a primary challenge against incumbent U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg this year, only to lose by 25 percentage points. But despite those three dispiriting defeats, he still won't rule out the possibility of another statewide run some day, and prefers not to speculate on whether the last one hurt his prospects.
"That's really not for me to decide. That's for voters to decide and leaders of the party," said Andrews (D-Haddon Heights) in a phone interview yesterday.
Political insiders acknowledge that there are a thousand lives in politics, but see Andrews's defeat as being particularly hard to crawl back from – and not just because of the lopsided margin.
Andrews's choice to go back to the House after pledging not to — after his wife filled his ballot spot as a placeholder – got him universally panned in the press. Three daily newspapers ran editorials not just denouncing Andrews' decision, but questioning his integrity and backing his long-shot Republican opponent, Rev. Dale Glading.
One thing Andrews had going for him was being the only Democratic Congressman south of I-195. That won't be the case in January, however, when state Sen. John Adler (D-Cherry Hill) becomes the first Democrat to hold the 3rd District seat since the late 19th century.
And while most Congressmen don't talk to the press about their feelings on Andrews, it's clear from those close to them that the relationships remain strained. It didn't help that Lautenberg's war chest was depleted during the primary, leaving it up to Congressmen to kick in cash towards the state's coordinated campaign effort.
"Time heals all wounds, but it's going to take a long time to heal all the wounds of this delegation," said one Capitol Hill insider.
"He's Congressman for life in the 1st District," said Monmouth University pollster/professor Patricik Murray. "You need to raise money to run statewide, and the question is who's going to back someone who's had a number of losing campaigns statewide?"
Not all Democrats are so grim about Andrews's prospects, however. Some point to the fact that he wins his district by huge margins year after year, that he's still relatively young at 52, and that he remains a viable force in South Jersey.
"Did he make a stupid move running? Yes. But I don't see the rest," said one influential Trenton insider.
What's clear, however, is that Andrews – once the heir apparent to Lautenberg if he didn't fill out his full-term – will no longer be in line to succeed him.
Andrews, for his part, said that he's not focusing on politics, but on economic policy.
"My focus is on representing the district the best that I can and being a part of what promises to be an exhilarating couple years in American history. One of my motivating factors in going back to the house was being a part of what's going to happen, and I would like to be involved," he said.
Andrews, who chairs the Education Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions , said it's going to be a "rough year, year and a half" economically for New Jersey, and that he wants to make sure he's helping the state.
"I want to do whatever I can locally to help kick start companies and job creation opportunities that will help us," he said.
Moreover, Andrews acknowledges that performing particularly well in Congress could revive his statewide political stardom.
"My focus will be on the next couple years of traumatic times in American history," he said. "I think anyone who plays a positive role in that time has political opportunities, but I'm not focused on political opportunities."