In a development that was generally expected, New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election next year. The senator is 89 years old, meaning he will be 90 at the time of the 2014 general election and 96 if he were to fully serve his next term. Though Lautenberg’s job approval numbers are good, his age is viewed as an overwhelming negative within every voter group.
This is actually the second time Lautenberg will retire from the Senate. Originally elected in 1982 he served three consecutive terms, choosing not to seek re-election in 2000. Two years later, however, when then-Sen. Bob Torricelli (D) was forced from the Democratic ticket due to scandal, the party leaders chose Lautenberg to replace the departing incumbent just a month before the 2002 election. He went on to score a 54-44 percent victory over Republican businessman Doug Forrester.
Sen. Lautenberg was subsequently re-elected in 2008, a 56-42 percent win over former Rep. Dick Zimmer (R-NJ-12) after defeating Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ-1) 59-35 percent in the Democratic primary. In all, Lautenberg, upon completing what will now be his final term in the Senate, will have served five non-consecutive six-year terms.
Despite his age, the senator was adamant, until yesterday, that he had not made a decision about seeking re-election. Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s statements saying that he wanted to run for Senate in 2014 clearly irked the incumbent, but the polls were unmistakable in positioning Lautenberg as a double-digit underdog if the two men were to face each other in the Democratic primary.
Though Booker has made it clear that he wants to run statewide next year he has yet to make a formal announcement, obviously hoping that Lautenberg would retire. Now that the senator’s plans are official, expect Booker to quickly form a federal campaign committee. But, he can expect serious Democratic opposition.
The person most likely to challenge Booker is 11-term veteran Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ-6). The 61-year-old Pallone has been plotting a Senate campaign for years, and this open seat will likely be his best opportunity. He would begin a Senate primary campaign with $3.4 million in his federal campaign account.
Others being mentioned are state senator and former interim-Gov. Richard Codey, who just recently declined to challenge Gov. Chris Christie (R) in his bid for re-election later this year. State Senate Pres. Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver are also drawing attention as possible contenders.
Even considering that this is now an open seat election, Republicans are not viewed as competitive. The last time an elected Republican represented New Jersey in the US Senate was Clifford Case, who won his final term in 1972. He served 24 years but lost the 1978 Republican primary to conservative Jeffrey Bell. Nicholas Brady (R), who would later serve as treasury secretary under President George H.W. Bush, was appointed to the Senate for an eight-month caretaker period in 1982 after Sen. Harrison Williams (D) was forced to resign.
All things considered, it is very likely that the June 2014 Democratic primary will determine who succeeds Sen. Lautenberg. Clearly, Booker is the early favorite, but he already faces a major fundraising deficit against Pallone. The real campaign, however, begins today.