Here's a shocker: Something ridiculous is going on in New Jersey politics.
"A perfect New Jersey political drama," says former senator Robert Torricelli, a veteran of a few of these himself.
It began earlier this month when New Jersey's Democratic senator, Jon Corzine, was elected governor. That post was vacated by James McGreevey, who resigned last year after disclosing that he'd had an adulterous gay relationship with his former homeland security adviser.
Corzine defeated Republican Douglas Forrester Nov. 8 -- despite the efforts of Corzine's ex-wife, who supported Forrester -- and gets to pick his Senate replacement. Nearly every Democratic congressman in the state wants the job and -- surprise -- most of them aren't shy.
Corzine is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks, and whomever he picks will likely seek reelection next year, probably against Republican Thomas Kean Jr., son of the former governor. Corzine's would-be successors have given the governor-elect little time to savor his victory.
"It was embarrassing for Democrats," says David Rebovich, a professor at Rider University, speaking of the elaborate suck-up campaign that commenced almost immediately among Corzine's hopeful successors. "It certainly took some of the luster off Corzine's win."
Six of New Jersey's seven Democratic congressmen are said to crave the Senate seat. Rep. Steve Rothman is New Jersey's only House Democrat to publicly demur (he has endorsed Rep. Bob Menendez).
Not that there's anything undesirable about serving in the minority of the so-called lower chamber, but:
"I think they see this as a ticket out of their torture chamber," says Rutgers political scientist Ross Baker.
Reps. Robert Andrews, Frank Pallone and Menendez have been most vocal in their escape efforts and started their pitches before Corzine was even elected governor -- holding news conferences, touting endorsements, giving speeches and essentially treating the contest like any other statewide campaign.
"I've been at this since last December," says Pallone, who says he spends "a good part of every day talking to Democratic leaders" in New Jersey about the Senate job.
This would seem odd given that there is exactly one vote that matters. "I operate under the assumption that Jon will talk to all of these people before he makes a decision," Pallone says. "And maybe they can put in a good word for me."
Of Corzine, Pallone says the following extremely flattering things:
"I just think he's great."
"He'll be just what New Jersey needs as governor."
"He's very warm."
"People genuinely feel he cares about them."
Stop the presses: Andrews is a huge fan of Corzine's, too.
Andrews says he has not picked out a Christmas present for the new governor. "The best Christmas present I could give him would be to beat Tom Kean resoundingly next November," he says. Interviewed by phone from his district in New Jersey, Andrews said he would spend the rest of that afternoon on the phone with Democratic officials.
"I'll tell them that America's future will be bleak without me in the Senate."
Andrews declines to answer a question about whether he thinks Corzine is the handsomest member of the Senate.
"We've learned to separate style from substance," he says.
(We apparently didn't get that memo.)
Rep. Rush Holt takes a lower-key approach, operating on the bizarre premise that "this kind of thing doesn't really merit a campaign."
Holt, a five-time "Jeopardy!" champion, says he has met with Corzine and expressed interest in his job. Beyond that, he says, "I don't think we need to make Jon's job harder than it is."
But numerous people are happy to. Such as Sen. Chuck Schumer, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, who has talked to several interested candidates in meetings he characterized as "interviews." This had the effect of ticking off the congressmen whom Schumer did not meet with. ("I heard other members say, 'What am I, chopped liver?' " Holt says.)
Nor did it endear him to Corzine.
"This is Jon's decision and that wasn't helpful," says one source close to Corzine who asked not to be identified because he doesn't want to be blamed for sowing further tension between the two men.
There is a history of animus between Schumer and Corzine, dating to a speech Corzine delivered last year at the Washington Press Club. "Sharing a media market with Chuck Schumer is like sharing a banana with a monkey," Corzine lamented. "Take a little bite out of it and he will throw his own feces at you."
Corzine, who said he meant this facetiously, would later apologize.
Several national Democrats wanted Corzine to consider Richard Codey, the popular acting governor who is serving out McGreevey's term, but Codey removed himself from consideration Wednesday. "I told my wife . . . it was an early anniversary present," Codey said in a statement.
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. said he met with Corzine last week and will meet with Schumer this week. Rep. Donald Payne also wants Corzine's old job.
"Everyone with a pulse in New Jersey has been mentioned as a replacement," says Matt Miller, a spokesman for Menendez. This includes Bruce Springsteen, who enjoys widespread support among bloggers, as does -- to a lesser degree -- Jersey native Jon Bon Jovi.
Tony Soprano's name has come up, too, presumably in jest, given that he's fictitious. Not that the truth is always more believable in New Jersey.