From: The Hill's Ballot Box
Sen. Frank Lautenberg's (D-N.J.) decision Thursday to retire from the Senate opens a clearer path to the Democratic nomination for Newark Mayor Cory Booker, but a difficult primary fight could still lay ahead.
"I am not announcing the end of anything. I am announcing the beginning of a two-year mission to pass new gun safety laws, protect children from toxic chemicals and create more opportunities for working families in New Jersey," Lautenberg said in a statement.
"While I may not be seeking reelection, there is plenty of work to do before the end of this term and I'm going to keep fighting as hard as ever for the people of New Jersey in the U.S. Senate."
Lautenberg said he would travel Friday to his hometown of Paterson, N.J., for a formal announcement.
The six-term senator is 89 years old, and there has been speculation for months that he would retire.
Booker (D) had already indicated he'd run whether or not Lautenberg retired, and likely faces a much easier path to the seat now that the senior senator has made the decision to bow out.
Booker, however, is expected to face a primary challenge from a handful of Democrats, including Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) who sources say is preparing to launch a bid for the seat.
In a statement, Pallone offered effusive praise of Lautenberg, calling him an "extraordinary leader" and a "moral guidepost."
"He has had an indelible impact on some of the most important issues facing New Jersey and our nation throughout his tenure including gun violence prevention, improving our nation’s transit systems and transportation infrastructure, making Americans healthier through anti-smoking initiatives, and rebuilding our state after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy," he said in the statement.
It's unclear what Pallone's next move will be, and his office declined to comment on whether he'll be jumping in the race now that Lautenberg is retiring.
Other potential contenders include State Assembly Leader Sheila Oliver (D) and State Senate President Steven Sweeney (D).
Booker, who had considered challenging Gov. Chris Christie (R) in this year's gubernatorial election, sparked some resentment among New Jersey Democrats by declaring his plans for the Senate before Lautenberg had decided whether or not to retire.
But polls conducted before Lautenberg's announcement showed Booker was a clear favorite among Democrats. A new Monmouth University Polling Institute found Booker led Lautenberg by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, with 40 percent support to Lautenberg's 25 percent support. Every other potential contender had low single-digit support.
While questions about whether Lautenberg would retire had swirled for months, he'd steadfastly refused to answer them. Lautenberg also made clear he felt Booker showed him a lack of respect.
Lautenberg joked that he'd "spank" Booker if necessary.
"I have four children, I love each one of them. I can't tell you that one of them wasn't occasionally disrespectful, so I gave them a spanking and everything was OK," Lautenberg told the Philadelphia Inquirer shortly after Booker had hinted he would run.
Broadcaster Geraldo Rivera has said he is interested in seeking the Republican nomination.
Christie, in a statement, credited Lautenberg for helping him fight for passage in Congress of emergency assistance legislation for victims of Hurricane Sandy.
“Frank Lautenberg and I have had our differences through the years, but I’ve always respected him for his tenacity, devotion to the people of New Jersey and his love for and commitment to public service," the New Jersey governor said.
"I will always be grateful for his doggedness in fighting with me and the delegation to ensure congressional passage of an aid package after Hurricane Sandy that is delivering necessary assistance to our residents. I wish him the best in his retirement.”
Democrats are favored to hold on to the seat in the liberal-leaning state.