In conversations with Democratic Party sources, the names of two U.S. Congressmen – one a veteran and the other a freshman – emerged Friday evening as possible Democratic Primary statewide contenders in an ultimate north versus south piece of New Jersey political carnage.
To be clear: there may be no need for a primary. U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) vigorously defended himself in the face of a CNN news report claiming imminent federal corruption charges against him.
If he is forced to resign, however, Democrats are divided roughly along a north-south barricade.
On the one side stands U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1), below, newly elected to his congressional seat last year, a former state senator with deep Building Trades ties and the politically nurturing relationship of an older brother chieftain of South Jersey Democrats.
On the other side stands U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9), the Paterson-based congressman who in 2012 shocked political observers with his take-down of an intra-party rival and unification of a newly redistricted Bergen-Passaic district. The dynamic 78-year-old Pascrell, right, a former Paterson mayor with a crusty film noir demeanor, is already referred to affectionately in some circles as New Jersey’s third senator.
Other names in the mix include former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy, a fledgling candidate for governor whose international knowledge base and self funding status could give him a natural trampoline into a senate run. One source, however, said he’s not interested, and determined to run for governor not senator.
There’s also Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), who could either recalibrate his own statewide designs from governor to senator (although no one has said he would do that), or fold into congressional mode if fellow South Jerseyan Norcross were to run and win.
A focused gubernatorial player early, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop has muscled his way into the statewide bloodstream and in the event that Pascrell didn’t run could find himself called on by northern players to checkmate Norcross.
But like Murphy and Sweeney, Fulop gives no indication he’s interested in anything other than governor.
Also potentially in play: U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6) of Monmouth County, trapped in doppelganger hell with fellow candidate U.S. Rep. Rush Holt and mutually steamrolled by Cory Booker in his 2013 bid for a vacant U.S. Senate seat. Veteran state Senators Ray Lesniak and Dick Codey likewise are said to have statewide fever.
Again, there is no vacant seat and Menendez this evening said he’s not going anywhere. But if Gov. Chris Christie confronted a vacancy and filled it with a Republican place-holder, those names noted above could emerge among Democrats along developing north-south lines.