The filing deadline for New Jersey's snap election for the Senate is 4 p.m. Monday, less than a week after Gov. Chris Christie announced his decision to hold the vote in October.
Barring any last-minute surprises, it seems likely there will be four Democrats: Newark Mayor Cory Booker, U.S. Sens. Rush Holt and Frank Pallone, and state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver; and three Republicans: former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, businessman Brian Goldberg, and physician Alieta Eck, who will put their names forward for the August primary to decide the candidates who will vie for the seat of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
Of these, by far the most intriguing is Eck, the 62-year-old former president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a group she likens to a "conservative AMA."
Eck came to prominence in 2011 when she gave evidence to the Senate Obamacare hearings. She is convinced, like so many others, that the president's entire healthcare overhaul will collapse under its own weight.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, Eck recalled how a colleague at AAPS told her she should run.
"I didn't have a clue as to how to get on the ballot or how to raise money. But before I knew it, my phone was ringing and there are now 50 people out with petitions to get me on the ballot.
"A few days ago, I would have never dreamed I'd be running, but I am," said Eck, who practices in Piscataway in northcentral New Jersey.
Her admitted status as a political neophyte notwithstanding, Eck is a popular figure among the tea party movement and conservatives in New Jersey for her opposition to Obamacare.
She and her physician-husband, John, offered an alternative plan to provide healthcare to those who can't afford it when she appeared before the Senate.
Under Eck's "Voluntary Free Protection Act," physicians would promise to provide four hours a week of free care to those who cannot afford healthcare. In return, their practices would be protected from lawsuits.
Eck's main primary opponent likely will be perennial candidate Lonegan, the former state director of Americans for Prosperity. At this stage, he is the favorite to win the nomination.
Lonegan certainly has the name-recognition, having run twice for governor and once for Congress, and many admire him for his commitment to conservative causes as well as his personal saga of overcoming an eye disorder and launching a successful small business.
But the question now is whether 57-year-old Lonegan has lost so often to convince Republicans they need a fresher face, in which case Eck could be the right person at the right time.
Whoever wins the GOP nomination will have an uphill struggle, especially if Booker -- the clear favorite, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll -- wins the Democrats' primary as expected.
There is little difference on issues among Booker, Holt, and Pallone, all being decidedly on the party's liberal wing. Pallone, 61, is a member of the decidedly leftist House Democratic Progressive Caucus, and Holt, 64, was rated one of the eight most-liberal members of Congress by the National Journal.
But the bids by those two lawmakers are fueled in part by anger among many Democrats at Booker, 44, for declaring for the Senate in January, before Lautenberg announced he wasn't running.
The "snap" nature of the election aside, the race to fill the remainder of the term of the late Lautenberg is unusual that again in 2014, everything -- filing, primaries, and the general election -- will have to be repeated.
Rather than set the special election for Nov. 5, the same day that he faces the voters, Republican Gov. Chris Christie called for the primaries Aug. 13 and the general election Oct. 16. In a never-expected move, Christie on June 6 named unelected state Attorney General Jeff Chiesa to serve as senator until the special general election.
Although none would speak for the record, Garden State Republicans who talked to Newsmax were highly critical of Christie for his handling of the special election.
"He really didn't want a Senate race to interfere with what he hopes is his landslide re-election," one party activist told us. "So that's why he appointed a caretaker and why no one in office made the race in the special election. None of them want to cross Gov. Christie."
The same source insisted that Christie "kept everyone in the dark" about naming Chiesa.
"While Christie's decision will improve his re-election chances and reinforce his bipartisan reputation, it solidifies his 'It's all about me' persona amongst Republicans," concluded Mark Kennedy, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University.
As to what happens next in an unexpected Senate race in which developments are moving at quicksilver pace, the short answer is, tune in tomorrow.
John Gizzi is special political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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