In Presidential election years, New Jersey politics is usually the furthest thing from people’s minds and that is exactly how the political machine bosses like it. With the exception of 2008, when the powers that be thought that they could have an impact on the Presidential primary election season on behalf of their favored candidate, Hillary Clinton, by moving the state’s primary election from its traditional date at the end of the calendar in June to Super Tuesday in February, they have always preferred to remain under the radar and able to guarantee the strength of the organization line by having the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee, whoever that might be, at the top of their line.
We could see that dynamic change somewhat in 2024. On the Republican side, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie may run for President again, positioning himself as the establishment alternative who is obnoxious and ridiculous enough to appeal to a segment of the Colonel Bat Guano wing of the Republican Party that could be divided between the likes of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida Congressman and underaged prostitute connoisseur, Matt Gaetz, the Queen of Qanon conspiracy theories, including but not limited to Jewish Space Lasers causing California wildfires, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and of course the Grand Master of the GQP, former President Donald Trump.
If Christie does run again in 2024, he would most certainly benefit from his home state of New Jersey moving up as early as possible in the primary election calendar. For the same reason that Democrats need to be able to prove their ability to win in purple states like Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire, and red states like Florida, Republicans need to show that they can be competitive in blue states like New Jersey. My guess is that Democrats could be convinced to move the state’s primary election date, separating it from the state’s regular June primary election date where the nominees for the rest of the elected offices in the state if the Republican Party agrees to reimburse the county boards of elections and the state for the cost of a separate Presidential primary election.
The Democrats could have their own reason for separating the Presidential primary election from the primary elections for all of the other elected and political offices. There was a moment in 2020 where it seemed possible that Bernie Sanders could become the Democratic Presidential nominee and it coincided with the weeks leading up to the filing deadline of New Jersey’s Presidential primary elections.
As a result, many county party organizations began to advocate for what they called an open Presidential primary election, which would have put Presidential candidates like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders on their own ballot lines, separate from United States Senator, United States Congressperson, and all the other offices where the Bernie Sanders campaign in New Jersey had recruited candidates to run on Bernie’s line. These downticket candidates would have benefited greatly if Bernie Sanders was the presumptive nominee in June 2020. Thankfully for the Democratic establishment, they had one of their own, Analilia Mejia, working as the National Political Director of the Sanders campaign and she was only too happy to comply with their wishes, regardless of the negative impact on his supporters who worked as hard as they did to build an opposition line for him.
While it is unlikely that there will be a contested Presidential primary election on the Democratic side of the ballot in 2024, it is not outside the realm of possibility. The most likely scenario is that President Joe Biden runs for re-election unopposed. The next most likely scenario is that he does not complete his first term, Vice President Kamala Harris becomes President, and she runs for re-election unopposed.
However, there is also a slight possibility that President Biden decides to not run for a second term. If this were to happen, Vice President Harris would be the most likely Democratic nominee in 2024, but there is a greater than zero chance that she could face opposition for the Democratic nomination, most likely from someone on the Democratic Party’s progressive wing like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.
For the same reasons that I do not believe that AOC is going to challenge Chuck Schumer for his Senate seat in 2022, I do not believe that she is going to run for President. I think that she is quite content with the admiration and attention that her current office provides her. I do not believe that she is going to risk that for an office that would admittedly give her more influence and power, but also require her to assume far more responsibility. The big difference is that her congressional seat is hers for as long as she wants it. She would be an underdog in any bid for higher office.
That said, the possibility should still be considered, especially knowing the impact that a competitive race between AOC and Harris could have on a Senatorial primary election between the incumbent, Senator Robert Menendez and his prospective opponent, Congressman Donald Norcross as well as other downticket races. As mentioned previously, Norcross has been trying to project a more progressive image in recent years, joining the Congressional Progressive Caucus and becoming its Vice Chair.
If Norcross challenges Menendez in 2024 – highly unlikely – and either Biden or Harris is running for re-election unopposed, the most likely scenario if the Presidential primary election is held in June would either have Biden or Harris run off the line in an open primary election or appear at the top of the line of the Senate candidate who that has been endorsed by the county party organization in the county where the ballots are being drawn. However, if Harris is running against someone like AOC, there could be a scenario where Harris brackets with Menendez and the downticket candidates that are bracketed with him in every county and AOC brackets with Norcross and his downticket candidates.
This latter scenario would be unpredictable enough for the Democratic political machine bosses throughout the state to want to avoid having anything to do with a June Presidential primary election. If they can convince the Republicans to pay the costs of a stand-alone Presidential primary election, all the better.
So let’s move forward under the assumption that the Democrats and Republicans negotiate a stand-alone Presidential primary election, enabling Norcross to take on Menendez with a relatively level playing field. Assuming for a moment that insurgents did not take control over the county party organizations in Middlesex County and Union County in 2023 and North Jersey was unable to get Middlesex County to align with them and elect a new Senate President, following are how the county party organizations would most likely be divided.
Team Menendez – Bergen, Essex, Hunterdon, Hudson, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, and Warren
Team Norcross – Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset, and Union
Also, assuming for a moment that in 2022 Norcross defeated Van Drew in CD1, Amy Kennedy won CD2, Linda Greenstein won the new CD4, Dan Benson won the new CD12, and all of the other incumbent Democratic Congresspersons were re-elected, following is how their support would most likely be divided.
Team Menendez – Gottheimer, Kennedy, Malinowski, Payne Jr., Sherrill, and Sires
Team Norcross – Benson, Greenstein, Kim, Pallone, and Pascrell
In order to make things interesting, I assigned each team a defector against her/his county party organization. Kennedy would break with Team Norcross, because of her relationships with the South Jersey Women for Progressive Change. Pascrell would break from Team Menendez, because of his relationship with George Norcross, going back to the 2000 Senatorial primary election when he backed former Governor Jim Florio against Jon Corzine.
Based on this, following are the most likely primary election matchups in each congressional district.
CD1 – Sue Altman (M) vs Former Mayor of Camden, Dana Redd (N)
CD2 – Congresswoman Amy Kennedy (M) vs Former Atlantic County Freeholder Ashley Bennett (N)
CD3 – Collingswood Municipal Chair Kate Delany (M) vs Congressman Andy Kim (N)
CD4 – NJDSC Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Doris Lin (M) vs Congresswoman Linda Greenstein (N)
CD5 – Congressman Josh Gottheimer (M) vs Former Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri-Huttle (N)
CD6 – Former Mayor of Perth Amboy, Wilda D (M) vs Congressman Frank Pallone (N)
CD7 – Congressman Tom Malinowski (M) vs Former Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (N)
CD8 – Congressman Albio Sires (M) vs State Senator Beth Mason (N)
CD9 – State Senator Nellie Pou (M) vs Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (N)
CD10 – Congressman Donald Payne Jr. (M) vs Shavar Jeffries (N)
CD11 – Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (M) vs Tamara Harris (N)
CD12 – Former Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (M) vs Congressman Dan Benson (N)
With each side producing full slates of candidates for every elected and political office, the State of New Jersey would be able to witness firsthand the most seriously contested statewide primary election in its history. There have been head-to-head contested statewide primary elections between the North and the South in the past. Corzine versus Florio in 2000 and Andrews vs Lautenberg in 2008 are the most recent, but in neither example was the matchup this even.
At face value, I don’t think that even the late, great Nick Acocella could predict the winner of this race and if it would have remained a fair fight, its outcome could have told us a lot about what would happen in 2025. Unfortunately, in New Jersey, there is no such thing as a fair fight and United States Senator Cory Booker’s endorsement for Team Norcross will put it over the top statewide and in every congressional district except CD11, where Sherrill will win, but by a much narrower margin than in her first matchup against Harris in 2008.
During the Team Norcross victory celebration at the BB&T Pavilion in Camden, Booker and Norcross would pre-empt any decision that Murphy might have made after the November election by announcing that he will run for Governor in 2025. Check.
During the 2024 Democratic National Convention, a unity meeting would take place. In attendance at this meeting would be Booker, Jones, Murphy, both Norcross brothers, Oliver, Sweeney, and Stack. At this meeting, Booker would make Oliver an offer that will be nearly impossible for her to refuse. If she agrees to not run for re-election for Governor after Murphy vacates the seat in early 2025 to join the Harris administration and he wins in November, he will appoint her to replace him in the United States Senate. This would give her the opportunity to make history twice by becoming the state’s first African-American Governor and first African-American female Governor and then becoming the state’s first African-American female United States Senator. Check.
This offer should have been enough of a carrot for Oliver. Unfortunately, these guys, who are used to bullying women, would overplay their hand. The reason that Stack was in the room was to provide the stick. He would tell her that if she does run for re-election, the Hudson County Democratic Organization and all of its state legislators would be supporting Booker, breaking from the rest of North Jersey and making it all but impossible for her to win.
The stick should not have been necessary to convince Oliver to accept Booker’s offer. She had already lost to him in a previous statewide election; the 2013 special election to replace the late Senator Frank Lautenberg. It is also possible that she would not want to be Governor if she was not going to have legislative leadership in place that was going to fully support her policy agenda. During her time as Murphy’s Lieutenant Governor, she saw firsthand how much he struggled with Norcross and Sweeney. Having been under their thumb when she was Assembly Speaker, she would not have wanted to be in that same position, once again, as Governor.
The Senate seat would have been a free pass to a much easier and simpler life. She could go to Washington as the only African-American female Senator, which would carry with it a significant amount of cache. More importantly, she would not have to deal with the nonsense that is New Jersey politics.
If only Stack had not threatened her the way that he did. It may not have stung her the way that it did if it had come from Booker. After everything that she had been through with Norcross and Sweeney in the past, having yet another white man threaten her in the way that he did would make it impossible for her to accept Booker’s offer.
She would politely decline his offer and would tell him that no matter what Murphy decided to do going forward, she was going to run for Governor in the June 2025 primary election. She also told Booker that she would be more than happy to accept the Senate seat if he defeated her in June and his Republican opponent in November, but she was not going to allow herself to be bought, much less threatened. Then, she would walk out of the room with her pride intact for the moment anyway.
Later that day, Oliver would receive a call from Jones, asking her to meet with him and Murphy. During this meeting Jones and Murphy would tell her that she has no choice but to accept Booker’s offer. President Harris would tell Murphy that she does not want any intraparty warfare putting New Jersey at risk in November against the Republican nominee, the state’s former Governor Chris Christie. Check.
She wants Murphy to announce that he is endorsing Booker for Governor and that Jones, Oliver, and the entire Democratic establishment in New Jersey is backing him. If Murphy does not make this happen, he will not be offered a position in the Harris Administration and his political career will be over. Jones has also been informed that if he cannot convince Oliver to accept this offer, he will lose both of his chairmanships. Check.
Backed into a corner, Oliver’s choice would be clear. She could accept Booker’s offer and become a United States Senator. If she did not and decided to stand up and fight, she would have the entirety of the Democratic establishment against her. Yes, New Jersey’s progressive insurgent community would be more than happy to have the opportunity to fight the good fight against the evil Democratic Party establishment, particularly on behalf of an African-American woman who would have just been chewed up and spit out by them.
And if this story was being written by a Hollywood screenwriter, Oliver would have told Jones and Murphy where they could take and shove Booker’s offer and her job and gone on to win a miraculous victory in June 2025 against all odds, sweeping in a new and far more progressive state legislature with her. However, this story is not being written by a Hollywood screenwriter. It is being written by a guy in Jamesburg who has been observing New Jersey politics long enough to know how this story would end.
Oliver has gotten as far as she has by playing the game by rules written by white men. As a neophyte Assemblywoman, she was part of the coup that that took down Senate President and former Acting Governor Richard Codey and prevented Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman from becoming Assembly Speaker.
Oliver lost her Speakership when she bucked Norcross and Sweeney on the pen-ben legislation. It is a minor miracle that she and not Shavonda Sumter was chosen to be Murphy’s Lieutenant Governor. It is a major miracle that she was not asked to tender her resignation when she backed Jones over Currie in the NJDSC Chair fight, which forced Murphy to negotiate a peace deal with Jones. I wonder if this was the only time in the last four years that Murphy regretted choosing Oliver over Sumter.
However, this would not be a fight that Oliver could ever win and she would be smart enough to know this. Progressive insurgents have never come close to winning anything in this state and even with an African-American former LG as the face of their movement, they would never be able to organize well enough to get 40% of the vote in a statewide race much less win. Check.
The entirety of the Democratic Party establishment includes the entirety of organized labor. Even the more progressive public employee unions, the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, and its Executive Director, Sue Altman, would swiftly fall in line behind Booker. Even Altman’s South Jersey Women for Progressive Change would have no choice but to support Booker. Check.
Oliver would have organizations like Our Revolution New Jersey, Progressive Democrats of New Jersey, and Democracy for America – New Jersey, which is still just Rosi Efthim, supporting her and that is it. All of the other so-called progressive groups like Action Together New Jersey, Blue Wave New Jersey, and Indivisible New Jersey would be with Booker and he would win in a landslide. It is anybody’s guess how many downticket candidates Team Oliver would have been able to recruit, but it would not have been close to enough. Check.
The difference between 2024 and 2025 is that the Democratic establishment in New Jersey takes their own state politics far more seriously than national politics. To them, state government is real power. It is bread. The federal government is circuses.
This is why all of the seriously contested statewide primary elections that have taken place over the last two decades have been senatorial races, not gubernatorial races. The political machine bosses that run New Jersey will use a Senate race to test the balance of power in the state, but when it comes to the state legislature and the most powerful Governor’s office in the country, they do not mess around and take chances.
Thus, this story will not have a Hollywood ending. It will have the only kind of ending that it could have ever had, which is a New Jersey ending with Oliver accepting Booker’s offer and joining Murphy and everybody else onstage with Booker and Harris to celebrate party unity.
Biden or Harris will be elected or re-elected President in 2024, Murphy will accept a position in his or her administration, most likely leading the World Bank or another ambassadorship, Oliver will make history, becoming Governor in 2025, Booker will run unopposed in the gubernatorial primary election and win the general election in a landslide, and Oliver will make history once again when she replaces him in the United States Senate. Checkmate.
Who knows? Maybe Booker will also prevent Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson from becoming President in 2032 and turning the movie “Idiocracy” into a documentary.
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