Amid headlines Saturday that the FBI was investigating rumors that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) patronized prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, speculation was rekindled that the 58-year-old lawmaker may not finish the second term to which he was elected last fall.
This conjecture followed the obvious question beginning to be asked by Democrats and Republicans alike, from the Garden State to Washington: what would happen to the Senate and New Jersey politics if Menendez were forced to resign?
The most obvious change would be that, with Gov. Chris Christie certain to name a fellow Republican to the vacated seat, Republican ranks in the Senate would go from the present 45 to 46. The appointed GOP senator would then serve until the next general election (2014), when a special election would be held to fill the remaining four years of Menendez‚??s term.
It is taken for granted among New Jersey Republicans that, if presented with a vacancy in the Senate, Christie would appoint State Sen. Joseph M. Kyrillos, Jr., moderate-conservative and campaign chairman for Christie‚??s winning race for governor in ‚??09. Last fall, the 52-year-old Kyrillos drew 39 percent of the vote against Menendez.
‚??It is 99 per cent certain that Sen. Kyrillos would get the appointment,‚?Ě David Norcross, former New Jersey Republican National Committeeman and state party chairman, told Human Events, ‚??Chris and Joe are very, very close.‚?Ě
Former Rep. and 1989 Republican gubernatorial nominee James Courter agreed, telling us without hesitation: ‚??If Menendez is forced to resign, Joe Kyrillos will be appointed.‚?Ě
As for Democrats, an exit by Menendez would open a window of opportunity for several office-holders who waited for years for the retirement announcement by the state‚??s other Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg. When the 89-year-old Lautenberg finally said last week he was stepping down in ‚??14, many of those who longed to replace him found themselves trumped by the Democrat already in the Senate primary, Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
So Reps. Frank Pallone and Rob Andrews‚??both of whom have clearly longed for Lautenberg‚??s seat‚??would almost surely run in a special election for the state‚??s other Senate seat if it becomes open. The same is true for the two powerhouses in the state legislature, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (Essex) and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (Gloucester).
Following Lautenberg‚??s retirement announcement last week, Rep. Rush Holt (D-12th Dist.) told the online website PolitckerNJ: “I‚??ve made no secret in previous years that I would consider the Senate at the right time.” For Holt, a scientist and son of a Democratic senator from West Virginia, the ‚??right time‚?Ě may be when seat of Menendez rather than Lautenberg is open.