New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), fresh off a landslide reelection win and seemingly with an eye on the 2016 presidential race, spent Thursday trying to oust a longtime Republican ally from power.
Christie and his staff lobbied Republican state senators to dump their leader, Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., after three terms atop the GOP conference. At least four Republican senators paraded through Christie’s office Thursday morning to get the hard sell.
Christie was pushing Senate Republicans to choose Kevin O’Toole, an Essex senator, to replace Kean. Ultimately, Kean won 10 of the 16 votes inside the Republican conference to keep his job.
After the meeting, the Newark Star-Ledger reported that Kean and O’Toole emerged from a conference room sweating.
Despite Christie’s 60 percent showing Tuesday, Republicans didn’t make up any ground in the state Senate. Two New Jersey Republican sources told GovBeat that Christie wanted Kean out in part over Kean’s feud with Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D), with whom Christie has to work to get legislation through.
As part of his drive to take over the Senate majority, Kean had targeted Sweeney’s seat earlier this year. New Jersey legislative leaders usually abide by a gentleman’s agreement not to target each other for electoral defeat, and Kean’s move infuriated Sweeney. Kean and Sweeney haven’t gotten along, according to PolitickerNJ, and the two have openly bickered, even at events meant to play up bipartisanship.
Christie appeared to defer to Democrat Sweeney too, angering some in Kean’s camp. In the days before the election, when Christie turned his attention to helping legislative candidates, he focused on Senate districts in northern New Jersey, rather than in the south, where Kean was trying to oust Sweeney and two other Democratic incumbents.
At a post-election news conference Wednesday, Christie wouldn’t say he supported Kean’s continued leadership of the Senate caucus. Instead, Christie pointedly said, he had just spoken — with Sweeney.
A Christie spokesman declined to comment on the Senate vote. In his own statement, Kean made a point of saying he looked forward to working with Christie, Sweeney and two other legislative leaders.
Kean’s reelection came the same day his father, former governor Tom Kean Sr., made glowing comments about Christie to National Review Online.
“Chris just won reelection, he’s popular, and there is a sense he would be able to compete everywhere,” the elder Kean said.
Kean Sr. is the only Republican in modern political history to score a higher percentage of the vote than Christie did Tuesday. When he ran for reelection in 1985, Kean won with 71 percent of the vote.