Steve Lonegan is well aware of the potential to make history in the Oct. 16 special election for a U.S. Senate seat.
If elected, the Republican would be the first senator from his party to be elected to the upper house of Congress in at least two generations, Lonegan noted during a radio interview Monday on the John Gambling show, during which he discussed his campaign.
"I would be the first Republican senator elected in New Jersey in 41 years," said Lonegan, who is vying with Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat, for the seat left vacant after Sen. Frank Lautenberg died in early June.
Lonegan is correct. Other than an eight-month period in 1982 when a Republican was appointed to a Senate seat from New Jersey, and this summer's appointment of Republican Jeff Chiesa to temporarily fill Lautenberg's seat until the special election, Democrats have had a stronghold on the state’s two Senate seats for more than 30 years.
This statistic is not a new claim. Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, referenced it in May 2012 during a speech he gave at an event held by the libertarian Cato Institute.
Let’s first review some history about New Jersey’s senators.
Clifford P. Case was the last Republican that New Jerseyans elected to the Senate, in 1972. Case served four terms before losing a re-election bid in the 1978 Republican primary to Jeffrey Bell.
The Democratic lock on New Jersey’s Senate seats began in 1978 with the election of Bill Bradley.
Republicans from the Garden State had served in the Senate for the 40 years leading up to Bradley’s election, but Democrats have dominated every Senate race since Bradley’s election.
That changed briefly in 1982, when Republican Nicholas Brady was appointed to fill in for Democrat Harrison Williams Jr., who left office after convictions on bribery and conspiracy charges as part of the federal ABSCAM probe. ABSCAM was an investigation by the FBI in which several public officials were offered money or other items in exchange for special favors.
Brady left the Senate after Lautenberg won the 1982 general election, 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 deciding not to seek re-election in 2001. His retirement was short-lived, however.
Lautenberg returned to the Senate in 2003 to replace fellow Democrat Robert Torricelli on the ballot. Torricelli, who had served one term, quit his re-election bid in 2002 over an ethics probe.
Democrat domination continued until Christie appointed Chiesa, the state's former attorney general, to Lautenberg's seat on June 6. Chiesa was sworn in four days later.
Lonegan said during a radio interview, "I would be the first Republican senator elected in New Jersey in 41 years."
In 1972, New Jersey sent Republican Clifford Case to the U.S. Senate to serve a fourth term, but he lost a Republican primary re-election bid in 1978, to Jeffrey Bell.
Since then, New Jersey voters have not elected another GOP candidate to the Senate. Republicans from New Jersey served in the Senate for eight months during 1982, and since mid-June, but both were appointed, not elected.
We rate Lonegan's claim True.
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Editor's Note: The 'Our Ruling' section of this story has been corrected to reflect that Clifford Case lost the Republican primary in 1978 to Jeffrey Bell, not Bill Bradley.