Should Gov. Christie run and win the presidency in 2012, New Jersey Republicans would confront a gubernatorial election one year later without their star candidate.
Sources told PolitickerNJ.com today that Christie and his closest political allies would rely on party organizations to put his establishment successor in the optimum position to win.
That person would likely face one or more renegade GOP challengers from a highly fragmented Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.
You will see a donnybrook of people who want to succeed him,” said one party insider.
Here are the top ten contenders based on discussions…
By virtue of her position, the lieutenant governor is the favorite to succeed her boss.
Upside: Christie loyalist Guadagno would be running as the sitting governor and likely have Christie’s support if she wants the job. A former prosecutor, she authentically extends the Christie brand of tough cop on a no-BS mission. Guadagno, moreover, would have more than just her friendship with Christie on which to build organizational support. While Christie has cruised the country working national contacts, Guadagno has dutifully worked the rubber chicken circuit, developing relationships with county committee members in political cow towns. She’s an erstwhile fundraising fixture at GOP events in unwinnable contests everywhere, engendering goodwill among party types. Sources in the party also say she makes a good appearance. She also comes out of Monmouth County, a critical Republican base and as LG probably has better name ID than most.
Downside: She’s the untested Gordon Brown constantly caught on camera behind the larger than life presence of a star governor, made to look – whether fairly or unfairly – like the grinning sycophant of the state’s resident Roman potentate. Moreover, by contrast to Christie, Guadagno doesn’t hail from New Jersey. She’s an Iowa import. In a general election, she could give demoralized Democrats (besieged since Corzine with Christie’s ability to corner the NJ working class hero image) a chance to field a candidate who could make Guadagno look like an interloper.
A lot depends on what happens this year as he mulls a run for U.S. Senate, but the Monmouth County veteran GOP state senator is close to Christie and for years has hovered at the edge of a statewide run.
Upside: He knows the Legislature and the issues, and has deep ties to his personal friend, Christie, and the Christie administration. He hails from Republican stronghold Monmouth County and lives in Middletown, a key Monmouth GOP building block. He’s New Jersey born and raised; party sources refer to him with respect and admire his public elegance. As a former state party chairman, Kyrillos knows the state, its political undercurrents and organization players.
Downside: Kyrillos has his eye on the 2012 Senate race and U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez. He could either win that election if he runs or lose, eventualities that kayo his 2013 gubernatorial prospects. Style-wise, the not easily ruffled Kyrillos has the opposite demeanor of the publicly emotional Christie, which isn’t necessarily a negative – and could be seen as a positive by a Christie-exhausted electorate – except when party insiders interpret good manners as lack of resolve.
Tom Kean Jr.
It’s no secret that the senate minority leader from Union County has statewide designs.
Upside: Name ID. His father, former Gov. Tom Kean, remains one of the more solid emblems of good governance in New Jersey; one of the reminders that those words don’t constitute an oxymoron. He’s in a key legislative leadership post right now and avidly travels the state on behalf of Republican senate candidates.
Downside: Whatever Kean’s individual gifts, comparisons with his father inevitably arise and that’s a difficult universe of gravitas in which to operate. Kean is not as close to the governor as some other allies, according to multiple sources. He nurses the wounds of an unsuccessful 2006 U.S. Senate bid against Menendez. He is careful to note that he got closer to an incumbent Democrat that year than any other losing Republican in a statewide race. But insiders invariably howl about missteps, including Kean’s YouTube meltdown when the mother of a KIA American soldier in Iraq sought contact with him and he stepped quickly away from her while an operative checked her advance.
The movement conservative leader describes the Christie administration as “a liberal front group.”
Upside: As the New Jersey director of Americans for Prosperity and a former two-time candidate for governor, Lonegan has both some organization and an abiding ambition for the job. He also has executive experience as one of just two people on this list to have served as a mayor (Bogota), and a Tea Party base.
Downside: He lost twice in gubernatorial bids and has struggled in the Christie era to consolidate a fragmented Tea Party movement in New Jersey. He has tried to remain as much as possible in the spotlight during the Christie era with Americans for Prosperity, but his aggressive conqueror makes it difficult for a renegade movement to gain real traction in this organization-driven state.
Like Kyrillos, the LD 23 state senator’s political fate may hinge on what happens this year.
Upside: No one since Steve Lonegan in 2008-2009 has worked harder than Doherty to embody New Jersey’s conservative brand. Already campaigning for 2012 U.S. Senate, Doherty has determinedly argued for his schools funding reform legislation in every corner of the state. At a rally last week where Doherty endorsed U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX.) for president, a big, enthusiastic crowd put a punctuation mark on the event by chanting, “Doherty! Doherty! Doherty!”
Downside: Money. His lack of it might force him to lean precariously rightward in a general election. Different factions of the Tea Party right now demand any statewide candidate to make sure he can line up and keep disciplined those individualistic, anti-establishment GOP interests. If he runs for statewide office, Doherty – like Lonegan – would have to make sure he has every (or most) renegades in place before credibly confronting the Republican machine. If he runs for U.S. Senate this year, like Kyrillos, a win would obviously remove him from the governor’s contest. Depending on how he performs as a longshot candidate against the Christie GOP, Doherty could resurface statewide in 2013 with strengthened name ID.
Political operative for governor
Upside: Generally regarded as one of the smartest political minds among elected officials, the Essex County state Senator from District 40 has a longstanding history of working across the aisle. Like his bitter enemy, former Gov. Dick Codey (D-27), O’Toole is more mechanically than ideologically minded. He is an intimate knowledge of players and politics statewide. Close to the governor.
Downside: His associations with Democratic Party power players could hurt him in a primary. It also may be more in O’Toole’s interest to back Kean for governor and pursue the caucus leadership position for himself.
She was one victory away from a Time magazine cover story in 2010.
Upside: Former mayor of Highlands, the Tea Party brand has some executive experience. If neither Lonegan nor Doherty runs for governor, she could be the anti-establishment choice out of the blue-collar Bayshore.
Downside: Just like Doherty and Lonegan, “Too Conservative for New Jersey” is a slogan she would no doubt confront in a general election. The establishment tossed her in 2007 when she served as a freeholder, so there’s lingering ill will there in Monmouth for the unpredictable Little, and shaky ties to all factions of New Jersey’s Tea Party movement. It is said, too, that Little is focused on a rematch with U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6), which would likely take her out of gubernatorial contention.
Sources say the Union County minority conference leader wants a statewide shot.
Upside: Bramnick’s socially moderate positions on the issues and ease working across the aisle with Democrats make him an appealing statewide general election candidate. He is close to the Christie administration and to Christie advisor Bill Palatucci, a fellow Westfield resident. He is regarded by fellow Republicans as street smart and capable of using humor to defuse political tensions. His legal practice has made him a wealthy man.
Downside: He may have a difficult time surviving a primary.
Could Christie’s exit spark a longtime statewide flirtation?
Upside: Dollars and narrative. The Princeton-based Crowley is a self-made biotech millionaire and Navy intelligence officer. In the words of a GOP insider, “It’s not about Harrison Ford in a movie about the life of John Crowley. This guy could play himself in a film adaptation of a John Clancy novel.
Downside: Reclusive. Ever since he hosted the party for that 2008 riverboat ride down the Mississippi, Crowley has gone somewhat into his shell. He gives money to candidates here and there – but much – not enough to engender real deep-seated love. The movie Hollywood made about his life was almost straight to video.
They couldn’t get Christie clone Rex Ryan, so they enlisted Woody.
Upside: The New York Jets owner and Jersey native is rich and apparently interested in running for office statewide where he could capitalize on his name ID with sports fans.
Downside: Untested politically. Could turn into a gimmick as a candidate. He’s also said to be mulling a 2012 U.S. Senate run.