The indictment yesterday of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on eight counts of bribery raises the intriguing possibility that the blue-state seat could flip red if the GOP’s sole rock-star politician in the Garden State enters the race. That public servant, of course, is Gov. Chris Christie, who’s a little busy right now running for president.
Christie will never be president, though. If he decides to face up to that fact and switch races, he can promise New Jersey voters to bring his unique, lively voice to the discourse in Washington and vigorously represent them in a way few politicians ever have. And Republicans nationwide will be delighted.
Once touted as leading 2016 contender, Christie has seen his presidential campaign barely exit the starting gate. Stuck between the Bridgegate scandal back home and his inability to connect with voters in early primary states, Christie has been eclipsed by other candidates. His chances have taken a particular beating with the early success of Jeb Bush, who appeals to some of the mainstream (read: conservative but not “too” conservative) voters – and donors – he had counted on.
Despite triumphant results for the governors he had boosted as chair of the Republican Governors Association just five months ago, Christie has had a lackluster 2015. In the “poll of polls” published by RealClearPolitics, he’s in 7th place with 6.6 percent of the vote. No major national poll since December has shown him in double digits.
If Christie were to announce his candidacy for Menendez’s Senate seat, which comes up in 2018 but would be open sooner if the senator resigns, he would be an immediate favorite. His in-your-face Joizy style, first made popular in YouTube videos showing him confronting teachers union lackeys, will start to play well again when New Jersey voters see he’s curtailed his national aspirations to focus on serving them.
Christie’s second term as governor ends in January 2018, which is perfect timing for a Senate race. It means he can continue demonstrating his passion for government service and his leadership skills for a few more years, while still having 10 months to campaign without the distractions of a “day job.”
Oh, and all the funds he raised as a presidential candidate will be available to him in a Senate race.
Whether Menendez’s seat opens up because the senator resigns or retires; or whether he decides to press ahead and run for re-election despite the scandal, Christie would be the dominant figure in the scramble for that seat. In a closely divided Senate where Republicans need every vote they can, a race switch by Christie could have lasting consequences for the party and the country. (By contrast, Christie’s inevitable exit from the race early next year would be barely a blip in electoral history.)
In fact, the Menendez retirement could offer a graceful way out from a candidacy Christie may already be eager to end. He could announce, right away, that “New Jersey needs reliable, honest Senators,” and that he’s decided to serve his state’s needs by exiting the presidential race and running for the Menendez seat as soon as it comes open.
David Benkof is Senior Political Analyst for the Daily Caller. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter (@DavidBenkof); or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.