For those of you who don't follow Garden State politics, things move fast when vacancies come up. The amount of political maneuvering we've seen in the past 48 hours makes my head spin, and we are just getting started.
Rush Holt is a valuable member of Congress because he comes from a much different place than most other Congressmen: he was a scientist and university professor. Was he versed in politics? Yes, his father was a Senator. But Holt did not lead a political career prior to running for the House. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a politician and moving up the ladder, but it helps Congress to have several members who did not take that path. Holt was an important one of that group.
Let's talk about NJ-12 for a minute, so people unfamiliar can understand the dynamics. The district is heavily Democratic, taking in the southern half of Middlesex County, most of Mercer County, and small parts of Somerset and Union counties. Bear with me when it comes to these names, as the county is the lifeblood of NJ politics. It's also to important to remember that in the NJ Legislature, there are 40 districts, each with 1 State Senator and 2 State Assemblymen (so, the lower house does not have separate districts like in most states, making them more dependent on their Senator).
Heavily Democratic Middlesex County is the larger than a Congressional district, but lacks a member of Congress. The northern half is represented by Frank Pallone (NJ-06) who lives in Monmouth County, while Holt of Mercer County represents the southern half. New Democratic Chairman Kevin McCabe is looking to put an end to that, getting behind State Senator Linda Greenstein out of the gate. She will be the Middlesex candidate, will probably be the "suburban" candidate, and is seen as the frontrunner. Her Assembly-mates are already angling for her State Senate seat.
Mercer County has been much more complicated, with at least 5 people expressing interest. State Senator Shirley Turner and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora deferred to their district-mate, Bonnie Watson Coleman, who is looking more and more like the Mercer County candidate and "urban" candidate. Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes has also deferred to Coleman, and I expect County Clerk Paula Covello will too.
Middlesex and Mercer are the main players, but don't count out Somerset and Union, which make up much smaller portions of the district. Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, of Somerset County, has announced a bid, and is the only announced candidate who has run for Congress before (he lost to Leonard Lance in NJ-07 in 2012; he didn't live in that district, but does live in NJ-12). Mercer is hoping that Chivukula will steal votes from Greenstein's Middlesex, which has a significant Indian-American population, giving Coleman a leg up.
Then, in Union County, Assemblyman Jerry Green has been scheming an alliance between his native city of Plainfield and Coleman's Trenton, to ensure urban representation for the district. While Union County is a small portion of the district, giving its votes to Mercer would make Coleman more competitive with Greenstein's larger Middlesex. It was thought at first that Green was thinking about running himself, but he seems more interested in this alliance now.
To recap, Linda Greenstein will be the Middlesex / suburban candidate, Coleman will be the Mercer / urban candidate, and possibly the Union candidate, and Chivukula will be the Somerset / Indian candidate, and possible spoiler for Greenstein. There's also a racial component to this, as Greenstein is white, Coleman is black and Chivukula is Indian.
Head hurt yet? This all happened in the past 48 hours. Personally, while I like all of these candidates to an extent, I would rather see Holt replaced with someone who isn't a politician. My fantasy candidate here would be Paul Krugman, but I know that will never happen. Ed Potosnak, a former Congressional candidate, teacher and ED of the League o Conservation Voters. With Princeton in the district, I'm sure there are also many more non-politicians like Holt. But, the seat will probably go to Greenstein or Coleman, who I suppose would each make fine representatives.
Welcome to New Jersey.