Five-term Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) passed away today. Under my former home state New Jersey law, the special election to fill the empty seat will happen in November 2013, which is the regularly scheduled general election for governor and the state legislature. Until then, Governor Chris Christie (R) gets to appoint a replacement.
Naturally, given the tight division of seats between the parties in Congress, and many important battles left to fight until November, speculation has already begun about Christie’s choice. Some names that have been mentioned include three sitting state legislators: Tom Kean, Joe Kyrillos, and Jon Bramnick.
Yet that speculation misses a key variable: the likely voting behavior of Christie’s choice upon entering the Senate. My research with Nolan McCarty can help inform the discussion because it directly measures the ideology of the most likely candidates for the position.
In this post, I’ll discuss the three state legislative candidates that have been mentioned as likely replacements for Lautenberg, and their ideological position, relative to New Jersey Republicans from 1996 to 2008 and the US Congress from the 109th through the 112th Congresses. I will use both legislative voting behavior and candidate responses of all state legislators and members of Congress to generate a single number for each candidate on a left-right ideology scale.
The current state legislative candidates are as follows:
- State Senator Thomas “Tom” Kean, Jr. His score is 0.041, which is slightly on the right of the state party (65th percentile).
- State Senator Joseph “Joe” M. Kyrillos. His score is 0.014, which is a tick to the right of the median of the state party (55th percentile).
- State Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick. His score is -0.028, which is actually somewhat to the left (40th percentile) of the state party.
Thus, all three are moderate Republicans — in New Jersey, whose party is relatively liberal, compared with state legislators across the country (do note that there is a small amount of error underlying the estimates, so I wouldn’t make too much–for example–about the distinction between Kean and Kyrillos). Here is a graphical representation of where New Jersey Republicans lie in comparative terms (outlined in green near the bottom of the chart). The states are ordered from overall most conservative at the top (Idaho) to most liberal at the bottom (California). The red boxes represent Republicans, and the blue ones Democrats. Medians, or centers of the parties looking across time, are denoted by black marks within the boxes.
But what about in comparison to the US Senate? How conservative or moderate are the three likely to be when they arrive there shortly? My research allows me to simultaneously measure the ideology of sitting and former members of Congress along with more than 18,000 sitting and former state legislators. Thus, I project that Kean, Kyrillos, and Bramnick are approximately comparable to moderate Maine Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and former Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown.
The data underlying this post is free and open to the scholarly community and the public. The technical article that explains the approach we used for generating these scores is here.
In another post I’ll discuss New Jersey Republicans who’ve served as members of Congress.
ps The key assumption for this measurement project is that legislators are, on average, consistent in their voting behavior and survey responses, no matter which position they hold. Basically, and roughly speaking, legislators typically don’t change their positions on the whole throughout their political careers. This was the basis of my then-controversial post about Scott Brown’s moderation based on his roll call votes in the Massachusetts State Senate. Luckily, I turned out to be right on that one. More generally, there is much political science evidence on this score.