RANDOLPH NJ - The presidential horse race isn't the only horse race on the minds of New Jerseyans these days. While the nomination of Donald Trump and the race between Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders occupies the track right now, contestants for the next race are warming up.
The 2017 race to elect a successor to Governor Chris Christie is starting to take shape.
After flying to new heights in the presidential campaign, Governor Christie returned to where his journey started - Morris County and the Twenty-Fifth Legislative District. Friday night, the Governor was a special guest at Senator Anthony Bucco's annual Beefsteak Dinner, which was held at St. Andrew's Greek Orthodox Church in Randolph.
Speaking to approximately 250 Bucco supporters in attendance, Christie addressed the 2017 race, and asked them to "keep your powder dry." For the most part, Republicans have kept their powder dry, but Democrats have already begun to load and aim and fire at will.
There are no official candidates for the office yet. Three very prominent Democrats are angling for their party's nomination, and they have been much more open about exploring a run.
New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney represents the Third Legislative District. Like a few other powerful Democrats, he has enjoyed a comfortable working relationship with Governor Christie. His on-again-off-again alliance with Governor Christie doesn't help him with Democrat Party primary voters, but his strong alliance with the undisputed Democrat Party boss of South Jersey will give him a boost. Sweeeney, a union official by day, also receives a big boost from a Super PAC, New Jerseyans for a Better Tomorrow, which already has over 1.2 milliion dollars in the bank.
Senator Sweeney is not the only 2017 hopeful who has money behind his exploratory efforts. Two former Goldman Sachs guys are also angling for the Democrat Party nomination. Goldman Sachs has already produced one New Jersey governor - Jon Corzine.
Former Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy once served as a Senior Director of Goldman Sachs. He has formed New Start New Jersey. New Start New Jersey has run television commercials featuring Murphy. The commercials have touted the group's stated dedication to New Jersey's middle class, and has been critical of Governor Christie.
Another Goldman Sachs product interested in the job is Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. Fulop served two terms on the Jersey City City Council. An antagonist of former Mayor Jerry Healy, Fulop's signature achievement was the passage of a Pay-to-Play Ordinance for Jersey City. Fulop was elected Mayor in 2013, defeating Healy and communit leader Jerry Walker.
Fulop also appears to be allied with a Super PAC. The Coalition for Progress has already been socking away money. According to OpenSecrets.org, the Coalition has alrady raised 3.2 million dollars. If PT Barnum is correct, and no publicity is bad publicity, then Mayor Fulop is in good shape because the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has filed a complaint against Coalition for Progress for "direct and serious violations of the Federal Elections Campaign Act." It remains to be seen whether the FEC will take any action, or indeed whether the FEC has jurisdiction over activity that appears to be related to a state office.
The three major Democrats have been making the rounds to county organizations and the smoke-filled rooms seeking the support of party activists in what promises to be a very robust primary.
Next: Republicans exploring a run in 2017.