Cryan bill would keep Senate seat vacant until after special election

Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union), the Democratic State Chairman, has introduced legislation that would prevent United States Senate vacancies from being filled by gubernatorial appointment. Cryan wants voters to elect Senators, so his bill provides for a special election to fill a vacancy and requires that the U.S. Senate seat be left empty until after that election. Democrats are concerned that Frank Lautenberg, who turns 86 next month, might not finish his term (frankly, they are worried that he will die in office, but they are trying hard not to say it) and they don't want newly-elected Republican Gov. Christopher Christie to appoint a Republican to fill the seat.

Cryan's proposal mirrors the one passed by the Massachusetts Legislature in 2004, when they were concerned that a victory by John Kerry in the presidential race would allow GOP Gov. Mitt Romney to fill the Senate seat with a Republican. Massachusetts repealed the law this year so that the new Democratic governor, Deval Patrick, could appoint a Democrat to fill the seat left vacant with the death of Ted Kennedy.

The issue of how to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat is among the many things that divide New Jersey Democrats today. Assemblyman John McKeon (D-West Orange) has a bill that would require the governor to pick someone from the party that held the seat. The problem for some Democrats is that Christie could, for example, simply send Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac, a friendly Democrat, to the U.S. Senate.

There has been some discussion of the Wyoming plan, which would have the Democratic State Committee nominate three candidates of which the governor would pick one. This is a problem for some Democratic Senate aspirants who believe they would not be Christie's choice.

New Jersey's junior Senator, Robert Menendez, is the Chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. He doesn't want to see his home state send a Republican to the U.S. Senate (which would again bring the Democrats down to 59 seats) on his watch.

Democrats also want to avoid any advantage of incumbency for a Republican U.S. Senate candidate, even if it a brief stint in Washington. Republicans have not won a U.S. Senate race in New Jersey since 1972 and have not had a Republican U.S. Senator since 1982; Lautenberg's mortality could be the GOP's best chance. Cryan bill would keep Senate seat vacant until after special election