When Will We Know Who Could Be A Heartbeat Away in NJ?
in Political & Legislative

Something is happening in New Jersey for just the third time in our history - our gubernatorial candidates will have running mates.

Before 2009 New Jersey was one of only a few states that didn’t have a lieutenant governor to succeed to the governorship in the event of a vacancy. Only two individuals had previously held the title, both in the Colonial times.

For most of the state's history, a vacancy in the position of governor was filled by the president of the State Senate.

After episodes where the state had multiple "acting governors" in the span of a few years following the resignations of Governor Christie Whitman in 2001 and Governor Jim McGreevey in 2004, pressure mounted for a better solution to gubernatorial succession. After all, the senate president/acting governor, or “SPAG” as it became known, was inherently a violation of the separation of powers doctrine. 

In 2006 a referendum was put before the voters to amend the state's constitution to provide for a lieutenant governor to be elected on a ticket with the governor to serve a concurrent a four-year term. Incumbent lieutenant governor and current GOP gubernatorial nominee Kim Guadagno was elected the state’s first lieutenant governor on a ticket with Governor Chris Christie in 2009, and re-elected with him in 2013.

New Jersey doesn’t have the equivalent of the national conventions where party standard-bearers and their running mates are formally nominated. Here in New Jersey voters select their party’s nominee in a statewide primary election and the nominees select who they want to be their running mate. 

So when might New Jersey voters know who’ll be running for lieutenant governor?

The answer rests on two factors; when the primary election results are officially certified, and when the candidates feel they can get the most political bang for their buck.

Officially, a nominee has thirty days to name their running mate once the Division of Elections certifies the primary results.  Because that can take about two months, the June 6 primary results might be certified as late as say mid-August. That would leave the potential window for announcing a running mate open until mid-September. 

Timing of any announcement is critical, to maximize exposure and momentum. For practical purposes, Labor Day weekend is the traditional start of political campaign season in the state.  Unless one of the candidates can do something wildly attention-getting with their pick, it’s going to be hard to get any attention before the end of the summer season. In fact, I’d argue that few other than reporters, pundits and outright political junkies are more than slightly aware there’s even a gubernatorial election this year

I’m betting we won’t know who might be a heartbeat away in New Jersey until after Labor Day. But, in the words of Yogi Berra, “It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”