GOP sources: Christie’s running again, take it to the bank, but here’s the statewide bench

Despite Democrats’ best efforts to create an aura of inevitability around Gov. Chris Christie’s imminent departure, sources close to the Republican governor say he staunchly sees re-election as a vital component of his record.

In short, GOP sources tell, whether Mitt Romney wins or loses, Christie plans to stick to New Jersey, an infuriating fact for ego-bruised golf course Dems trying to get rid of him.

They have persisted on two fronts, first suggesting as often as possible that Christie desperately wants a VP slot.

Their other oft-kick-started rumor is that the governor wants to head to Fox News to make money, craving the bully pulpit of a TV studio to fulminate about society and sock the money he never made as U.S. Attorney.  

The second suggestion hinges on the premise that Romney will lose the election and Christie will forego running for re-election in New Jersey to arm up for a 2016 presidential run.      

If Romney wins in November, Dems deviously entertain the third option: Christie going to the administration to serve as attorney general.

Republican sources close to the governor say it’s all wishful thinking from a party humiliated by the governor’s successive legislative victories, his poll numbers, the absence to date of a top flight name among Democratic Party challengers, and the projection of a mood from the state’s chief executive that signals nothing less than love for his job.

The narrative defies Christie’s own exhaustively repeated boast that he’s strictly his own boss and doesn’t want to work for anybody.

Moreover, the Democrats’ willingness to entertain a Christie exit prior to the 2013 election ignores what to the lower rungs of the party persists as a terribly discomfiting reality: the governor’s friendly and aggressive engagement of whole portions of the Democrats’ most powerful political apparatus.

The Republican has forged good relations – and that’s an understatement, according to insiders – with the South Jersey Democratic Organization, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, and Union City Mayor Brian P. Stack, among others, essentially making a laughing stock of the storyline that he’s terrified of facing voters again.

But there will come a time when Christie departs, later rather than sooner if those Republican sources are to be believed, and when that occurs, six members of the party appear poised for statewide deployment as necessary.

Here they are…

Kim Guadagno

Pluses: She’s spent three years now perfecting the rubber chicken circuit. Go into any dilapidated party building , and you’ll likely find a picture of Guadagno tacked to the wall with a local candidate, usually one who’s lost an election, but who can fondly recall how the LG braved a rainstorm to come to his only fundraiser.  It doesn’t hurt that the state Constitution gives Guadagno the governorship in the event that Christie leaves early.  

Negatives: She’s not from New Jersey and has played the Number 2 part to the hilt, factors that will embolden rivals antsy to make their own power plays in the aftermath of the Christie era. One GOP source told that if Romney wins, Guadagno, a prosecutor by trade, could be on a short list to become the next U.S. Attorney from New Jersey. The reshuffling would open up the LG position to one of the men below…

Joe Kyrillos

Pluses: If he doesn’t beat U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) but exceeds expectations with his performance, the veteran state senator will possess the advantage of just having worked a statewide network. He’s close to Christie and Romney. He was the state director of Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign and arranged the early meetings between Romney and Christie. Patrick Murray, political scientist and polling director for Monmouth University, thinks Kyrillos is in such a tough position with the presidential contest a foregone conclusion in New Jersey, that he would unfairly absorb the stigma of unreconstructed loser. “Kyrillos has to do this all on his own against the tide of a presidential election,” Murray said. “If he loses to Menendez by half the margin that Romney loses to Obama in New Jersey, that’s not a bad showing; but it’s not necessarily a bad showing if he loses by a larger margin, because everything is against him.”

Negatives: Fairly or not, if Menendez runs over him, Kyrillos could fall into the dreaded fresh road-kill category that clung to Tom Kean Jr. in the wake of his own loss to Menendez in 2006. It’s a delicate balance. Kyrillos wants to prove himself a legitimate brand. But a double-digit loss could sting and likely give his intra-party opponents an opening argument as to why Joe shouldn’t be the party’s statewide standard-bearer.

Tom Kean Jr.

Pluses: His father was a beloved governor who perfected the art of working across the aisle and did so in a classy way. As Senate minority leader, Kean has maintained statewide contacts and kept himself visible on campaign fronts in key districts 2, 14, and 38. He’s still young and vibrant, and by all appearances, hungry. He’s also a completely different public animal than Christie, whose angry boardwalk prowler act may be stale in time for the next election.

Negatives: No apparent executive experience. He’s also haunted by the whispered taunts of detractors who say he’s rustbelt royalty, not self-made solidity. Then there’s that 2006 contest with Menendez. He did better than any other Republican statewide challenger in the country that year, at a time when New Jersey voters wanted to send a message to George W. Bush. But YouTube evidence illustrates crushing campaign missteps.

Jon Bramnick

Pluses:  In rare New Jersey possession of both book and street smarts, the affable Bramnick in ten years worked his way up to the top of the party to become Assembly minority leader. He’s a moderate Republican well-liked on both sides of the aisle and politically savvy. Funny, he would be a tough out in a debate where his personality – combined with his knowledge of the issues – could make an opponent look stiff and unhip.

Negatives:  His moderate tendencies could inflame right-tilting Republicans eager to prove a point in the aftermath of Christie’s reign. A bloody primary could await Bramnick, who has not endeared himself to what blue state Jersey likes to believe is the camo-wearing wing of the party.

Kevin O’Toole

Pluses: No one gets the inside game on the GOP side like the Essex County Republican, who has proved himself a loyal mechanic to the Christie administration. Just like Christie, O’Toole has manically cultivated friends among Democrats, Steve Adubato of Newark’s North Ward chief among them, in addition to South Jersey’s Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3).

Negatives: His focus appears to be on his thriving law practice and raising his family more than on statewide aspirations. Sources say he’s not close to pulling the trigger on a statewide run and has found his comfort zone as a behind-the-scenes operator.  

Mike Doherty

Pluses: The former Army captain has the sturdy backbone of the movement conservative wing of the Republican Party behind him and has long shown signs of eagerness to go statewide.

Negatives: For at least six years now the buzz around Doherty has been for U.S. Senate, not governor. He almost ran this year before entering into talks with Christie and Kyrillos. A gubernatorial run would shift expectations of Washington for the Warren County Republican.   GOP sources: Christie’s running again, take it to the bank, but here’s the statewide bench