But Republican senators who spoke up for Kean in the caucus argued loudly that it was Christie’s refusal to campaign hard for Republican Senate candidates in South Jersey that kept the GOP from making those races as close as the battles in the 14th, 18thand 38th -- three districts where the popular governor did campaign.
The powerful Republican delegations in Ocean County and Christie’s home county of Morris, two of the strongest GOP bastions in the state, stood firm with Kean, as did all three GOP senators in Bergen, the state’s most populous county.
Kean issued a brief three-sentence statement after the vote. “I’m honored to lead the Republican Caucus in the Senate and I thank my colleagues for their overwhelming support. The responsibility to my caucus and all New Jerseyans is one I hold with great respect. I look forward to working with Gov. Christie, Steve, Vincent, and Jon,” he said, referring to Sweeney, new Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson), and reelected Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union).
Sweeney, who is still bitter and has not forgiven Kean, was running an ad on politickernj.com yesterday showing himself holding up a newspaper titled Republican Fantasy News with the headline “Kean Jr. Wins Senate Presidency” -- a play on the famous photo of Harry Truman holding up a photo of a Chicago Tribune front page announcing Thomas Dewey’s victory.
Sweeney was caustic in his official comment. “New Jersey voters returned all 24 Democratic senators because they know we will continue to fight for middleclass families,” Sweeney stated.
“That's not what Tom Kean Jr. or the Republican senate minority caucus represents, which was made clear today," Sweeney continued. "I could ask for no better minority leader than the one whose own strategy cemented their place as the minority party in this state.”
The question for Christie is whether Senate Republicans who have now stood up to him once will get a taste for independent action. Only two Republicans have voted to override a Christie veto in almost four years in office. Bateman and Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) each did so once. Now that they have bucked Christie on the Kean-O-Toole leadership vote, will some Republicans oppose him when the gay marriage bill comes up for a veto override, knowing that most New Jerseyans support the measure?
“Ever since Christie got elected, whenever Christie said, ‘Jump,’ Republicans asked, ‘How high?’” Murray noted. “Republicans were so unused to having a real party boss giving orders that they fell into line like sheep. Christie was welcomed with open arms by the party when he ran for governor, and he showed he had real potential as a party leader."
“Not all the Republicans in the Legislature realized this, but Christie’s really the leader of the Christie Party,” Murray said. “It’s purely a transactional relationship.”