Though the next gubernatorial election is still two years away, there has already been significant talk of who will run. On the Democratic side, there are several candidates—Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, Former Ambassador Phil Murphy and Senate President Sweeney among them—who seem to be lining themselves up to vie for the position. On the Republican side, however, the field of potential candidates has taken longer to take shape with few as actively pursuing the nomination as the Democrats seem to be.
Here are five possible Republican candidates for governor, why they would run and what they have to win or lose if they enter the race.
- Kim Guadagno. Because of her position as Lieutenant Governor, Kim Guadagno is the obvious choice on the Republican side for the candidacy. Her role has given her significant pull and made her one of the most recognized politicians in the state. As a leading member of the Republican establishment, Guadagno could muster support from the Republican Party machine in the state. Guadagno could also find a support base among some lesser-known Republicans in the state because, throughout her career, she has made an effort to support GOP candidates even in deadlocked districts (last week she attended a fundraiser for assembly candidate Pete Mendonez who is running in Dem lockdown district 15). Since the next election would be at the end of her term as Lieutenant Governor, timing would also be on Guadagno’s side and the transition could be more seamless than for other candidates.
- Jon Bramnick. As the assembly minority leader, Bramnick would also be an obvious establishment choice like Guadagno to pursue the governorship. He is generally well liked and seen as a moderate alternative to some Republicans in the state. However, this cycle has been a difficult one for Bramnick. This year he took responsibility for the mess in LD38 and it is possible that Republicans may lose seats in the assembly under his leadership in districts like LD16. The decision to run may also not come easily to Bramnick because if he made it past the primary but lost the general, he would be out of a job due to the forfeit of his assembly seat if he makes it into the general election.
- Thomas Kean Jr. Like for Bramnick, the decision to run might not come easy for state Senator Kean (R-21). If he made it past the primary, a loss in the general would also spell out a loss of his current position. Kean, as the legacy son of former governor Thomas Kean, has a good chance based on name recognition and likability. He is the minority leader in the senate, something which has also given him strong establishment support. However, a situation earlier this year where Governor Chris Christie tried to oust Kean from his position as minority leader might mean that support is less strong than for others. There are also rumors that Kean is looking to support Bush for president over Christie.
- Jack Ciattarelli. As the assistant Republican Whip in the N.J. assembly, Ciattarelli knows how to win over his fellow Republicans, something that could work in his favor if he decides to run. Though his district, LD16, has been strongly Republican in the past, mail from the Ciattarelli campaign shows that this year might be a bit of a struggle in the district. Whether he wins or loses, Ciattarelli is a gubernatorial contender. If he loses this year he won’t have to worry about forsaking his seat to run. But, if he wins, he can show strength for the Republican Party despite the governor’s approval ratings.
- Mike Doherty. State Senator Mike Doherty (R-23) is one non-establishment candidate who appears to be setting himself up for a potential gubernatorial run in 2017. Though he is from Western Jersey, Doherty was one of the only vocal Republicans insistent on getting a new candidate on the LD38 ballot after Anthony Cappola agreed to drop out. This shows that his vision has expanded statewide. Another hint he might be considering a run has been his vocal call for unity of the GOP under the central issue of fixing the school funding formula in the state. My making it a main talking point, Doherty seems to be hinting that the party could find that unity under his leadership. Further solidifying himself as a non-establishment candidate—which might be wise considering Christie’s tanking poll numbers—last week Doherty declared that Donald Trump was his choice for the Republican nomination for president. This choice might help Doherty, who has always had trouble fundraising, bring in the funds needed to pursue the governor’s seat and give him access to Trump’s donor base.