Watch for New Jersey Democrats to consider legislation that will change the way the state fills vacancies in the United States Senate. Now that Democrats have lost the governorship, some party leaders are concerned that Republican Gov.-elect Christopher Christie would appoint a U.S. Senator if Democrat Frank Lautenberg, who turns 86 in January, leaves office without finishing the final four years of his term. Some Democratic leaders have already discussed a plan to take the appointment away from the governor and forcing a quick special election. Jon Corzine could sign that bill before he leaves office in January.
Five years ago, when there was a good chance that Democrat John Kerry might get elected president, the Democratic-controlled Massachusetts Legislature changed the law so that Republican Gov. Mitt Romney could not appoint Kerry's successor.
An appointment to fill a vacancy could be the GOP's best hope of sending a Republican to the U.S. Senate for the first time since they held the seat for eight months in 1982. Democrats, anxious to maintain their filibuster-proof 60-vote majority, may not want to chance it. And New Jersey's junior Senator, Robert Menendez, is the Chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Republicans have not won a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey since 1972, when Clifford Case won a fourth term over former U.S. Rep. Paul Krebs. That was the last time Massachusetts sent a Republican to the Senate. Only two other states, Hawaii and West Virginia, have gone longer without a GOP U.S. Senate victory.
The last Republican to represent New Jersey in the United States Senate was Nicholas Brady, a Wall Street banker who was appointed by Gov. Thomas Kean in 1982 following the criminal conviction of four-term U.S. Sen. Harrison Williams. Brady did not run for a full-term in the 1982 general election, and resigned in December so that Lautenberg could enter the Senate a week early.
After leaving the Senate, Brady served as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan and Bush administrations.