SOMERSET HILLS NJ - We are only hours away from the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
The horse race appears to be a dead heat, with many national polls favoring Trump, who has led in the Los Angeles Times tracking poll for weeks now. Today, he leads Clinton in that poll by four points. What's more, his surge in the national polls is now reflected in the state polls, where he has closed the gap in many unlikely places such as Minnesota and Pennsylvania.
What would a Trump victory on Nov. 8 mean to the local politics of the Somerset Hills?
A Trump victory could create upward movement because two prominent Republicans are well-positioned to follow The Donald to our nation's capitol. They are Governor Chris Christie and State Senator Mike Dougherty.
The Christie Factor
Governor Christie endorsed Trump at a crucial moment in the Republican primary and has continued to ride in a prominent seat on the Trump Train. Christie will serve as the chair of Trump's transition team should Trump win. A transition team is a sort of administration-in-waiting. It is possible, or even likely, that Christie will follow his two months as Transition Team Chairman with a high-level gig in Washington.
Chief of Staff or Secretary of Homeland Security are two positions that come to mind as possible roles for Christie.
If Christie leaves for Washington after the election, then Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno will succeed him. With Guadagno in the corner office, any Republicans mulling a run for Governor are going to have to think twice. Running against an incumbent governor of one's own party is not a very attractive option. This a Trump victory followed by a Guadagno governorship would mean that popular Somerset County GOP Assemblyman Jack Ciatterelli may have to put his plans to run for governor on hold.
Dark Horse Dougherty
When Republicans gather tonight to watch the debate in Bernardsville, one or more of those present might benefit indirectly from a Trump victory.
State Senator Mike Dougherty represents a chunk of Somerset County in the State Senate. He was the first major elected Republican in New Jersey to support Trump. A Trump victory would no doubt open doors for the senator. If Dougherty leaves the State Senate for a federal post, the chain reaction would probably make Assemblyman Erik Peterson a Senator.
Several Somerset County Republicans would have their eye on Peterson's Assembly seat. The most prominent of those would be Freeholder Patrick Scaglione. Scaglione has served as a Bridgewater Township Councilman and a Somerset County Freeholder for the better parts of two decades. In addition, he serves on the board of the Matheny School in Peapack.
A Scaglione move into the Assembly would set off a free-for-all for the Republican nomination for Somerset County Freeholder.
The Somerset Hills is rich in Republican elected officials who might throw their hats into the ring. Bernards Township Mayor Carol Bianchi has been looking like a freeholder candidate for a while now. Her colleague John Carpenter has sought the nomination in the past (he came in second to Scaglione in a very close caucus vote). And what about Peapack-Gladstone Councilman Don Lemma? In the 1990s Lemma served as Bridgewater Council President before taking a shot at the GOP nomination for freeholder. Lemma hasn't expressed any freeholder ambitions, but you never know.