Blog Buzz: Remembering Sen. Frank Lautenberg

New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg's death poses a political dilemma for Gov. Chris Christie.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
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With Lautenberg's death, Democrats are now suddenly paying attention to New Jersey again. His Senate seat will be filled in a special election, and whichever Democrat is running for it — be it Cory Booker or Frank Pallone or even Rush Holt — can expect a huge amount of state and national party support. It's inevitable that some of that support will spill over to Buono too. Will it be enough support for her to beat Christie? Probably not. But it could be sufficient to deny Christie the huge reelection margin he was counting on as a springboard to a 2016 presidential run.What's more, Christie now has to pick a replacement for Lautenberg. This is something governors usually like to do, especially since that replacement would enjoy a huge advantage as an incumbent in the upcoming special election, but it will be a complicated choice for Christie. As a candidate for governor in a blue state, Christie has lately been casting himself as a uniter and a problem-solver, someone who's above petty partisan politics. In that vein, he might want to appoint a moderate Republican like State Senator Tom Kean Jr. or his longtime adviser Bill Palatucci. At the same time, national Republicans, some of whom are still angry at Christie for his post-Sandy embrace of Obama in the days before the 2012 presidential election, will want him to tap a more conservative replacement. As David Axelrod tweeted this morning, "Fascinating dilemma for Christie. Does he name interim who reflects his more moderate state, or feed Tea Party for '16?"Lautenberg's passing also marks a significant generational shift in the Senate, said Chris Cillizza of The Fix:
[A]t most, twelve sitting Senators will be veterans when the 114th Congress convenes in January 2015. (There is, of course, the possibility that veterans will win races next fall and add to that number.)…The decline in service has obvious roots (the end of the military draft in the early 1970s) and huge impact on American policy making.Sending American men and women to war is the most serious decision a Congress can make. Fewer and fewer people making those decision in the future will be able to speak from a position of experience and authority on the subject.Ed Kilgore of Political Animal also noted the drastically different Senate Lautenberg joined in 1982:
Lautenberg entered a Senate that was very different from the one he departed at death: Howard Baker, the sort of Republican that would today be barred from office for chronic RINOism, was the Majority Leader. His last colleague from that era is Orrin Hatch, who beat down a Tea Party challenge last year; the next-to-last was Dick Lugar, who succumbed to another.Despite his relatively advanced age, Lautenberg served three terms before "retiring" in 2000, and then managed to stay in the Senate for more than a decade after his comeback in 2002.He was perhaps best known as one of the Senate's most unapologetic advocates for gun regulation, and he lived just long enough to see the issue revived as a major national preoccupation this year—and then shelved once again with the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey bill. But more than any other colleague, Lautenberg was in a position to understand the long arc of history and its unpredictable length, and his contributions will endure.