Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, announced Thursday that he won't seek reelection in 2014, potentially paving the way for Newark Mayor Cory Booker to succeed him. The news was first reported by the Newark Star-Ledger.
"I will be traveling to my hometown of Paterson tomorrow to announce that I will not seek re-election in 2014," Lautenberg said in a statement. "This is not the end of anything, but rather the beginning of a two-year mission to pass new gun safety laws, protect children from toxic chemicals, and create more opportunities for working families in New Jersey. While I may not be seeking re-election, there is plenty of work to do before the end of this term and I'm going to keep fighting as hard as ever for the people of New Jersey in the U.S. Senate."
The 89-year-old Lautenberg's intentions have been the subject of intense speculation since Booker announced last month that he was exploring a run for Senate. Lautenberg and his allies have lobbed criticisms at Booker in recent weeks, and there had been speculation that Booker's actions had made the senator more determined to seek another six-year term.
Lautenberg's retirement sets up a potential primary matchup between Booker and Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone, who reportedly had been planning to run if Lautenberg opted not to seek reelection.
Pallone hasn't officially announced a run yet, though he reportedly had been planning to run if Lautenberg opted not to seek reelection. In a statement Thursday, Pallone praised Lautenberg's legislative work, saying, "I have been proud to serve with Senator Lautenberg and even prouder to call him a friend. I look forward to continuing to work together in the coming months to continue to address the issues that are important to him and New Jersey."
Booker released a statement praising the senator while avoiding mention of his Senate campaign. "On a personal note, Senator Lautenberg has been a strong model of leadership and service to me since before I even considered entering elected office," Booker said. "Since I have been mayor, he has been an invaluable partner in so many of Newark's recent accomplishments and successes. I look forward to continuing to work with him for the remainder of his term in the senate and for many years to come."
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver also has expressed interest in the seat, arguing that the Democratic nomination shouldn't be ceded to Booker because of his "national celebrity." State Senate President Steve Sweeney also has set up an exploratory committee for the race.
A Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll released earlier Thursday showed Booker leading Lautenberg in the Democratic primary by 15 percentage points. Pallone earned just 4 percent in the poll, while Sweeney finished at 2 percent. Twenty-two percent of primary voters said they were undecided.
But some Garden State Democrats would still like to see a competitive primary. Asked if Democrats should rally around Booker in the event of Lautenberg's retirement, 38 percent of Democratic primary voters said yes, while 31 percent said other candidates should get into the primary race.
Republicans face long odds in their hopes of flipping the seat. No GOP candidate has entered the race at this point, although longtime television host Geraldo Rivera is publicly flirting with a run. In the Monmouth poll, 51 percent of New Jersey registered voters said it is "not at all likely" that they would vote for Rivera, while only 9 percent said it is "very likely." Seventeen percent of registered voters said it is "somewhat likely," and 14 percent said it's "not too likely."