Sheila Oliver, New Jersey Assembly Speaker, Explores U.S. Senate Run

Newark Mayor Cory Booker addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (AP Phot
Newark Mayor Cory Booker addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The speaker of the New Jersey state Assembly has signaled her interest in a U.S. Senate bid next year, setting up another hurdle in front of Newark Mayor Cory Booker's (D) emerging candidacy.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) confirmed to The Star-Ledger over the weekend that she has "not ruled out" entering the 2014 race for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D). Booker last Friday filed papers with the Federal Election Commission setting up an exploratory committee to seek the Senate seat, possibly setting up a competitive primary race against the five-term incumbent. Lautenberg, 88, has not signaled his intention regarding the 2014 race, but his spokesman slammed a news report Friday of Lautenberg's retirement as "not true."

The Star-Ledger reported that Oliver attacked Booker's candidacy during a Friday interview on My9News. Oliver and Booker hail from opposite factions of the Essex County Democratic Party.

"I don’t think anyone is heir apparent to the U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey,” The Star-Ledger reported Oliver as saying on My9News. “And I am certain that once we move past the gubernatorial election cycle, there could potentially be other contenders.”

Booker has been viewed as the frontrunner for the Senate seat since he decided in December not to run against Gov. Chris Christie (R) this year in order to focus on the Senate seat.

Oliver, a former Essex County freeholder, has served in the state Assembly since 2002 and was elected as the state's first African-American woman legislative leader in 2010. She is the second African-American woman in American history to be a state legislative speaker, after Rep. Karen Bass (D-Cal.), who was California's Assembly speaker before being elected to Congress in 2010.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D) is also considered a potential U.S. Senate contender in the event Lautenberg retires. A Pallone candidacy against Oliver and Booker would make him the only white contender against two African-American candidates, in a state that has never elected an African-American to statewide office. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is the nation's only black senator.

If elected, Oliver would be the first woman senator from New Jersey. The Garden State has only elected two women to statewide office, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R) and former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R). Only four women, Whitman in 1990, former Montclair Mayor Mary Mochary in 1982, former Rep. Millicent Fenwick (R) in 1982 and Democratic party official Thelma Parkinson in 1930, have been major party nominees for U.S. Senate in New Jersey. State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) is the only announced Democratic candidate for New Jersey governor.

On the Republican side, Guadagno, state Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Washington Township), state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield), Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains) and businessman John Crowley are considered potential 2014 Senate candidates. Kean unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006, while Webber is a former state GOP chairman.