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Bramnick and Kean Mentioned for Lieutenant Governor

Would race for new statewide office be a good gamble for local assemblyman?

Chris Christie’s nomination as the Republican candidate for governor, has spurred intense speculation on his pick for lieutenant governor, which has pushed two Westfield residents to the possibility of joining the statewide ticket.

Media speculation for weeks has placed as potential running mates for the former U.S. attorney. Kean’s name was again mentioned earlier this week as a potential running mate. Some in the political chattering classes have dismissed both Westfield legislators saying they would not balance the ticket for Christie in his battle with Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine. Corzine has yet to name his own running mate.

While Kean would not have to risk his Senate seat in a bid to be the state’s first lieutenant governor, Bramnick would have more to lose if the bid were unsuccessful. In order to make the race, he’d have to abandon his re-election bid. If either were to run and be successful, they’d suddenly find themselves pioneers in an office that has not been a path to political stardom in other states.

Under the state constitution, the lieutenant governor will have one assigned duty–taking over should the governor die or resign. Any other duties will have to be assigned by law or the governor, including potentially holding a cabinet position. Julia Hurst, the executive director of the National Lieutenant Governors Association, said this mix would benefit Bramnick or Kean should they take the number two position.

“The office of lieutenant governor offers many opportunities on a daily basis to adopt a portfolio of duties,” she said. “There is no end to what a lieutenant governor can do.”

Hurst said NLGA statistics show that 18 second-in-commands have succeeded to governorships in the last decade, including three this year. This year’s total could become four if Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is confirmed as ambassador to China. New Jersey is the only state on the list to have two midterm successions.

While New York Gov. David Paterson was able to move up after Eliot Spitzer’s resignation, he is the exception to the rule. Many New Yorkers cannot name many of his predecessors, with one being known more for upstaging her boss by standing through the state of the state address than for any policy accomplishment.

But New York insiders say that Bramnick could actually benefit by taking on the new lieutenant governorship in New Jersey. By being the only statewide office below governor and the Senate, Bramnick could use the position to gain name recognition statewide in order to position himself for a run for higher office. Bramnick publically flirted with a Senate bid in 2008.

“If it is designed as New York’s, the only value if you are an assemblyman, and it’s tough to run statewide as an assemblyman, then you can have visibility to run for Senate or governor,” a New York Republican insider said.

Political observers noted that even though a losing bid could leave Bramnick out of office it could give him visibility to run statewide in his own right. Kean is not seen as needing the statewide visibility of the post, since he has already run statewide for U.S. Senate in 2006 and possesses one of the most famous names in New Jersey politics.

“In New Jersey, it’s a smart move, since there are no other statewide offices,” a New York Democratic insider said. “It you want to succeed Lautenberg it would be good.”

Ingrid Reed, who runs the New Jersey Project at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, agreed with the synopsis that the lieutenant governorship is a boost to a candidate like Bramnick in positioning himself for higher office. She said though that many state government watchers are looking to see how the office is used in New Jersey and hope the examples from other states are not repeated here.

Bramnick for his part has remained coy about his chances of being picked as Christie’s running mate. He stressed his enjoyment with combining a part-time legislative post with his full-time law practice, but left the door open a bit. Kean has played down talk with other publications.

“I am flattered by it, I am not the person who will be selected,” Bramnick said. “If a governor calls you and asks you to do it, you have to think about it.”

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