JOSEPH M. KYRILLOS Jr., a 20-year Republican veteran of the state Senate, has hopes of moving from Trenton to Washington, D.C. next year.
Kyrillos, who represents the 13th Legislative District, which includes the Bayshore area, announced last Thursday his intention to seek the Republican nomination and to challenge U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, the Democratic incumbent.
Kyrillos last week issued a statement laying out his reasoning for seeking the higher office, warning that “Our country is in trouble and Washington is failing us,” going on to say he had shifted his exploratory committee into a campaign one to run for federal office and take on national challenges.
Kyrillos, 51, is a Middletown resident, who on his state Legislature web page lists his occupation a commercial real estate broker. But Kyrillos has by and large for years been a fulltime legislator and political professional. He has been in the Senate since 1992, having served in the state’s General Assembly from 1988-1991. Along with those elected posts, he had been the GOP’s state committee chairman from 2001-04.
In 1992 Kyrillos had run unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives, looking to unseat incumbent Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) for the 6th District.
“We have proven in New Jersey that strong leadership can change things for the better,” Kyrillos’ release stated. “Under Governor Christie’s leadership and with the support of conservatives like myself,” he said the state has turned around after being on the “brink of bankruptcy.”
It is not surprising that Kyrillos would look to link his name and performance to the Republican Governor. The senator has long been a close friend of Christie’s and long seen as a close confidant, with Kyrillos serving as Christie’s campaign chairman.
Joseph X. Oxley, Monmouth County Republican chairman, and fellow Middletown resident, this week offered his strong support for Kyrillos’ run for federal elected office. “We go back literally a lifetime,” Oxley said on Wednesday, calling Kyrillos “a phenomenal, dedicated public servant,” who, “would certainly represent us well in Washington, D.C.”
“Senator Kyrillos would be seen certainly by the state party as an attractive candidate by his long record of office holding, party leadership, close to the Governor,” suspected Ruth Mandel, director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics, at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. “And likely to be an attractive candidate on the stump.”
Given his close affiliation to Christie, who is “the most powerful voice,” for the state party, “Senator Kyrillos is pretty much assured the nomination, one would expect,” Mandel said. And, given Kyrillos has made his public announcement Mandel suspected “the road had cleared,” to the nomination.
As it currently stands, according Mandel, no one else, other than third party candidates, has announced any intention of running in the primary, certainly not on the Democratic side. And on the GOP the only possible candidate for the primary ballot may be Anna Little, Mandel recalled.
Little, former Highlands mayor and Tea Party favorite in her unsuccessful bid for the 2010 Congressional race as the Republican candidate opposing Pallone, has said she would pursue this nomination and has established a website seeking financial and volunteer support.
But as Mandel pointed out, “If the Governor supports a candidate in his state, this is no big contest.”
Despite his plusses, Mandel did acknowledge there are considerable obstacles for Kyrillos, if he is ultimately the nominee. Menendez is a well-financed incumbent. “Even with the current frustration and anger with many voters at elected officials,” she said, “we would assume the incumbent would have the advantage.”
New Jersey still remains a traditionally blue state, and hasn’t sent a Republican senator to Washington since Clifford Case. And that, Mandel remembered, was more than 30 years ago.