With the passing of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie now faces the politically complicated decision of appointing an interim replacement. Running for reelection in a blue state, Christie could boost his bipartisan credentials by appointing a caretaker who wouldn't run in a subsequent special election -- someone like former Gov. Tom Kean or attorney Bill Palatucci, a longtime Christie friend and ally. Alternatively, Christie could appoint a Republican who plans to hold onto the seat, giving Republicans a leg up in their effort to hold the seat in a likely campaign against Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Republicans lack a strong bench in the Garden State, but here are five names to watch in the event Christie chooses the second option:
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno: Christie's current No. 2 would become the first female senator in Garden State history if appointed. Guadagno could make a compelling Senate candidate for all the same reasons Christie chose her as his running mate four years ago, but would she welcome the appointment? She's set herself up to be the first GOPer in line to run for governor in 2017 -- or to take over for Christie if he is elected president in 2016.
State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr.: Outside of Christie, Kean might have the most recognizable name of any Republican in the state, thanks to his father's own run as the state's ultra-popular GOP governor from 1981 through 1989. Kean has already demonstrated his desire to come to Washington: He unsuccessfully ran against Sen. Robert Menendez in 2006.
State Sen. Joe Kyrillos: Kyrillos is a longtime Christie ally, serving as his campaign chair in 2009. But some question his ability to hold the seat if appointed. The state senator mounted an unsuccessful and, some say, underwhelming challenge of the embattled Menendez last year.
Assemblyman Jay Webber: Webber has already been vetted by Christie's political team. After Christie captured the GOP gubernatorial nomination in June 2009, he handpicked Webber to serve as the state party chair, a position he held for the next year and a half.
Biotech executive John Crowley: Crowley has been viewed as a potential top-level GOP candidate for years, but he's never made the leap into politics. His personal story -- he left a job at a pharmaceutical company to finance biotech research in an effort to find a cure to a genetic disorder afflicting his children -- was chronicled in the 2010 movie "Extraordinary Measures." Some New Jersey Republicans gush about Crowley's upside as a candidate, but he already has passed on Senate runs in 2008 and 2012.