By John Gizzi
Although most pundits believe the easy win by Democrat Cory Booker in the New Jersey special Senate election Wednesday was a foregone conclusion, there’s another theory: Had Republican Gov. Chris Christie handled the situation differently, the outcome might have been quite different.
“Had Gov. Christie appointed a moderate-conservative with a known name — say, [state Senate Republican Leader] Tom Kean Jr. — after [incumbent Frank] Lautenberg died, and then scheduled the Senate race for the same day as the race for governor, Booker might just have been defeated,” a former Republican U.S. House member told Newsmax.
Christie did none of the above.
Following Lautenberg’s death in June, the governor named fellow Republican and state Attorney General Jeff Chiesa to serve as senator for four months.
Chiesa would not run for a full term and, in a move that disappointed many fellow Republicans, the governor chose the unusual date of Oct. 16 — a Wednesday — rather than Nov. 5, for the special election.
Had he chosen the latter, the Republican Senate nominee would be on the ticket with Christie the same day of what is shaping up to be his landslide re-election over Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono.
Instead, Republican Steve Lonegan was handily defeated Wednesday by Booker, who won 59 percent of the vote.
While running for re-election that year, the father of 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney placed maximum priority on securing a full term for the Republican he had appointed to a Senate vacancy.
Following the death of Democratic Sen. Patrick McNamara on April 30, 1966, Romney appointed Republican Rep. Robert P. Griffin, who already was seeking the Republican Senate nod. Griffin was facing a stiff battle in the fall from former Democratic Gov. G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams.
“The governor started out the canvassing three weeks earlier than in 1964 and worked harder,” wrote pundits Stephen Hess and David Broder in their classic 1967 book “The Republican Establishment.” “He opened a joint headquarters in Detroit, an arrangement previously unheard of in a Romney campaign. On bus placards, billboards, brochures, and television, Romney and Griffin were paired as ‘The Action Team for the Action State.'”
“The governor’s speeches actually seemed to gloss over his own accomplishments in order to dwell at length on the need to elect Griffin,” who Romney called “the ablest man Michigan has sent to the Senate since Arthur Vandenberg.”
Bill Gnodtke, who worked on Griffin’s campaign doing everything from licking stamps to driving the candidate, vividly recalled Romney’s assistance.
“Gov. Romney really went all-out for Bob Griffin,” Gnodtke, who would go on to become finance chairman and treasurer of the Michigan Republican Party, told Newsmax, “He did regional TV spots with him, marched with him at the Labor Day parade in Detroit, and had him on the campaign bus.
“When the governor spoke of a Romney ‘Action Team,’ he meant Bob Griffin, his running-mates for lieutenant governor, state attorney general, and secretary of state, and our legislative candidates,” Gnodtke said.
“Sensational,” is how Romney himself described the November results. In gaining the second-largest gubernatorial majority in Michigan history, he swept all but the largest and smallest of Michigan counties (Wayne and Keweenaw).
As Romney won by 527,047 votes, Griffin defeated Williams by 294,146 votes to become Michigan’s first elected Republican senator in 14 years. The GOP won five contested U.S. House races in the state, took over the state senate, and scored a tie in the state House of Representatives.
With all 120 seats in the New Jersey legislature up for election on Nov. 5, Republicans need net gains of five to take control of the state Senate and nine to win the Assembly. With his eye on the White House, the governor might well consider what a Christie “Action Team” might do for New Jersey and for him.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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