New Jersey could be poised to make political history twice in four months.
The first historic moment came last week when Gov. Chris Christie appointed state attorney general Jeffrey Chiesa to serve as an interim senator after Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg died June 3. Chiesa is a Republican – a political party that hasn’t represented New Jersey in the U.S. Senate in nearly two generations.
In the meantime, Christie has scheduled a special primary for Aug. 13. Four Democrats and two Republicans have filed to run in the primary. A special general election is scheduled Oct. 16, when history could be made again if voters send a Republican to the Senate.
The historic possibility wasn’t lost on former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who discussed it June 4 during an interview on the John Gambling radio show.
"We haven't had a Republican senator in Washington for ... why, I think Clifford Case was our last Republican senator," Whitman said.
Whitman’s claim is on target, but she’s not quite correct.
Let’s review some history.
Democrats have held both of the state’s Senate seats for more than three decades, PolitiFact New Jersey determined earlier this year after Christie claimed during a speech at the libertarian Cato Institute that the state was coming up on the 40th anniversary of the last time voters elected a Republican – Case -- to the Senate.
Case started his fourth six-year term in the Senate in 1972 and lost a bid for re-election in the 1978 GOP primary to Jeffrey Bell.
Bill Bradley, a Democrat, defeated Bell in the 1978 general election, starting the Democratic dominance of New Jersey’s two Senate seats.
But Case wasn’t the last Republican to represent New Jersey in the Senate. That distinction goes to Republican Nicholas Brady, who was appointed to a Senate seat in April 1982. Then-Gov. Tom Kean appointed Brady to fill in for Democrat Harrison Williams Jr., who was forced to give up his Senate seat after bribery and conspiracy convictions stemming from a federal corruption probe called ABSCAM.
So Case was the last Republican senator actually elected by New Jerseyans to the Senate, but Brady was the most recent Republican to serve the Garden State in the Senate prior to Chiesa’s appointment. We make that distinction because Whitman didn’t.
Brady, who would go on to serve as U.S. Treasury secretary in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, stepped down in December 1982 after Lautenberg won that year’s general election for the Senate, defeating Republican Millicent Fenwick. Kean appointed Lautenberg to complete the final days of the term.
Lautenberg started his first full term in January 1983 and served three six-year terms before retiring. He returned to the Senate two years later and served until his death.
In addition to Chiesa, who said he will not run in the special election, Democrat Robert Menendez also represents New Jersey in the Senate. He was re-elected in November.
Whitman spokesperson Heather Grizzle said the former governor declined comment.
Whitman said during a radio interview, "We haven't had a Republican senator in Washington for ... why, I think Clifford Case was our last Republican senator."
Brady was the last Republican to serve in the Senate, for eight months in 1982, prior to Chiesa’s appointment. Before that, Case was the last Republican that New Jersey voters elected to the Senate.
Since Whitman referred to the ‘last’ Republican senator to represent New Jersey, that title goes to Brady. We therefore rate the former governor’s claim Mostly True.
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