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« Lynch In Strong Position | Blog Home Page | This Week On PN Radio »

GOP Close On NJ Recruit

Senate Republicans, in the middle of a disappointing recruiting cycle that has seen a number of potentially strong candidates decline to make challenges to incumbent Democrats, may be close to landing a top target to take on New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, the Bergen Record reports today. If the GOP gets its wish, Lautenberg could face businessman Andrew Unanue, who is taking the weekend to talk the potential race over with family and is likely to make a decision Monday, a prominent GOP chairman told the paper.

Unanue, who runs a financial consulting business and a nightclub in New York City, could invest much of his own money in the race and provide a contrast Republicans would love to see in the Garden State: At 40 years old, and a Hispanic, Unanue would be starkly different than the 84-year old Lautenberg, who is white. The state's junior Senator, Democrat Bob Menendez, won a close race in 2006 largely on the strength of Latino votes.

Unanue would likely run as a moderate, as Bergen County Republican Party chairman Rob Ortiz told the Record, calling the potential candidate a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. He would face off with conservative State Senator Joe Pennacchio and Professor Murray Sabrin, who is running in the mold of libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul, in the state's June primary.

GOP leaders in New Jersey have been scrambling to find an alternative to Pennacchio, who once proposed putting homeless people in closed military bases, a notion Sabrin likened to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Developer Anne Evans Estabrook had been the party favorite until a health problem ended her campaign.

Other names being floated include State Senators Diane Allen and Kip Bateman, as well as Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, though Levinson has expressed serious reluctance to get into the race and Allen's health may also be an issue.

Still, actually fielding a strong candidate in New Jersey might prove more of a problem for Republicans than a benefit. With a national party trailing its Democratic counterpart by a wide margin, any hope of significant investment in the state from national sources seems unlikely. Increased turnout in a presidential election year will put the GOP at an even wider disadvantage, and the state is one of the most expensive in which to advertise in the whole country: To capture the entire audience, a candidate has to advertise in both New York and Philadelphia media markets.

That requirement likely gives Unanue a leg up in party leaders' minds. New Jersey can be a black hole for Republican dollars, but it always seems too tantalizing a target to avoid. Lautenberg does not benefit from amazingly strong poll numbers, and he's never won an overwhelming victory in the state.