GWEN IFILL: We turn to politics and part two of our look at upcoming elections.
Last night, I talked with NewsHour political editor Christina Bellantoni and Shira Toeplitz of Roll Call about hot Senate contests. Tonight, we continue our conversation.
Shira and Christina, welcome. Let’s talk some more politics.
I want to start with Illinois, Shira, where Jesse Jackson Jr., who just resigned his House seat, has left a wide-open political fight in his wake. What is going on there?
SHIRA TOEPLITZ, Roll Call: Yes, absolutely.
There is going to be a special election to fill his House seat, which is the Second District on the South Side of Chicago, just about 10 blocks or so from President Obama’s home. This is a very geographically diverse district. You — it includes these urban parts, the South Side of Chicago, suburban parts kind of south and west of Chicago, and rural farmland on the southern tip of the district.
And such a diverse geography means the field is very diverse, a whole lot of candidates. Seven pretty well-known names in Chicago politics are running right now. And that number could increase when we see the petitions come in to file for the race in a week or two.
GWEN IFILL: Shira, I have to ask you this because it seemed that for a long time Jesse Jr. had some problems, either legal or health problems. And maybe people have been positioning themselves for a while for this race.
Has that been going on, even before he said he was going to drop out?
SHIRA TOEPLITZ: Yes, absolutely.
There’s no shortage of ambitious politicians in Chicago. And I will use Debbie Halvorson, the former congressman, for example. She is running in this special election. She also ran against Jesse Jackson Jr. in the primary, sensing he had some vulnerabilities then. She ended up losing by a wide margin then. But she’s back again, like I said, for this special election, one in a field of about seven candidates.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s turn to South Carolina, Christina, because there’s something very interesting that’s happening there, which is we’re beginning to see people thinking about running for the House seat being vacated by Tim Scott, who just became the appointee to be senator to take Jim DeMint’s place, dominoes falling.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Right. Exactly.
GWEN IFILL: Two of the people running — thinking about running kind of know each other.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Yes, a little bit.
This seat could be vacant as early as next week, Jan. 2, when they come back into session for the 113th Congress. And what’s really interesting about this is former Gov. Mark Sanford, who for a time was very a popular Republican. He fought President Obama’s administration on the stimulus program. He had a lot of different things that had him really in high regards among conservatives. And then he had an affair. And…
GWEN IFILL: But he’s running against — we’re looking at — we’re giving it away here.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: There you go. Jenny Sanford, his ex-wife, has also expressed interest in this House seat.
What’s very interesting about this in addition to the fact that they were once married and he had this affair and went public and ended up leaving the governor’s race in a bit of disgrace and under investigation actually for using state funds for meeting his mistress, but he held this seat for three terms. This is a district he’s familiar with.
She was actually his campaign manager when he held this during the late 1990s into 2002, when he was elected governor. So, she is also familiar with this district. And neither of them are backing away. Both of them have said that they’re interested. They haven’t officially declared. But you could see a really interesting dynamic there.
And he’s got more than a million dollars in the bank left over from his political career. So, it’s possible he could be in good shape there.
GWEN IFILL: Shira, it’s interesting.
At the time that this story, this very lurid story about Mark Sanford first surfaced, people thought at the time, oh, well, he’s toast. He is not even going to be able to serve out his term, but he did survive. And he served out his term, didn’t he?
SHIRA TOEPLITZ: Yes, he did survive. You know, as Christina said, before this scandal, he was pretty popular. People talked about him even running for president.
He was well-regarded in Washington, D.C., too, among the delegation. So, yes, I think this is the perfect path for a comeback if he is going to do that. He goes back to his old district, where he’s known well. He will make a go. It will either work or it won’t, but this is the most direct path back to public life and public service that he could probably find.
GWEN IFILL: Well, if they run against each other, it is going to mean the most hotly covered House race in the country.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: And a primary — no doubt. It’s important to point out this is a pretty Republican seat, so it’s likely that a Republican will hold that seat when it’s over.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about the governor of New Jersey.
We had been watching Chris Christie a lot, whether it was to do to superstorm Sandy or just watching the way he campaigned for Mitt Romney. And there was a lot of question about whether he was going to get the challenge from the very popular mayor of Newark, at least popular in some circles, Cory Booker.
And Cory Booker told us what he’s going to do, Christina.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Yes. What’s interesting about this is that Cory Booker put out a Web video, which is how all of the politicians announce these days. And he said, I’m interested in running for Senate. That job isn’t actually open at this point. Senator Frank Lautenberg actually holds that seat, a longtime Democrat.
Lautenberg has not telegraphed what he’s going to do. In fact, when Cory Booker put out this statement that he was going to run, Lautenberg said, well, there’s a time for politics. And it’s next year. And that’s when I will address it.
GWEN IFILL: Lautenberg, who, it should be said, is 88 years old, something like that?
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Yes. He’s in his 80s. And he might decide to run. He could be — decide to keep that challenge afloat there.
We could either be talking about a Democratic primary, or Booker is very well known. He’s got a strong national presence, obviously has proven himself to be a fundraiser. So this is somebody who could clear the field for the Democrats, but either way it is going to be competitive.
Republicans always say that they think New Jersey is within their sights. And Chris Christie really proved to Republicans that a Republican can win there. So, it’s going to be very interesting, but that governor’s race is next fall.
GWEN IFILL: So, Shira, let’s talk about that governor’s race next fall. So, does Chris Christie now have a free run?
SHIRA TOEPLITZ: It’s looking like his ride to a second term is going to be a lot easier than it would have been if Cory Booker was in the race. These are two big New Jersey personalities. In a state like New Jersey, those are big, big personalities.
And I think he will have a much easier time. This obviously sets him up in a much better position should he decide to run for president in 2016. He can focus on that, building a national profile and a national donor base than having to worry so much about his challenge at home.
GWEN IFILL: You raise an interesting point.
I wonder if both — what you both think about this, whether both of these folks, Chris Christie and Cory Booker, have such national platforms now that we can expect to hear a lot from them, no matter what happens in the 2014 races.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: I would say so.
Certainly, what you saw, Chris Christie’s compliment of the president during superstorm Sandy, as you mentioned, he was so prominent there. Then Cory Booker, he has been out there not just doing the national talk show circuit, but also even in the comedy circuit. The two of them recorded a spoof video playing off of each other. This is their — the two of them have big personalities, as Shira mentioned, but also these big profiles. They’re not going away, no matter what they do.
GWEN IFILL: And they’re being watched for — I don’t know that Cory Booker is being talked about for president, but certainly Chris Christie is. They both are being watched very closely by national figures, Shira.
SHIRA TOEPLITZ: Yes, absolutely.
Chris Christie tops the list of contenders people — Republicans would like to see run in 2016. His favorability rating, especially post-Hurricane Sandy, it is quite high in New Jersey. I think Republicans would like to see someone who is a little more, I guess, not a Southern governor, someone from the Northeast, try again.
And I think Chris Christie has a better profile for that than Mitt Romney did. They would like to see him run again. I agree with you. Cory Booker, 2016 might be a little soon for him to run. But if he gets in the Senate, he can serve out a term change and try again maybe 2020, 2024.
GWEN IFILL: I want to know what Bruce Springsteen has to say, however. Whatever he says goes.
Shira Toeplitz of Roll Call, Christina Bellantoni of the NewsHour, thank you both very much.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Thank you. Merry Christmas.
GWEN IFILL: Thank you.
You can watch the first part of our discussion about the latest scramble for Senate seats in two states.