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Very sad news out of the Garden State this morning as longtime Senator Frank Lautenberg has died at the age of 89.  Lautenberg served in the Senate for New Jersey from 1982 to 2000 and then from 2003 to 2013 (after retiring and then being tabbed to replace Robert Torricelli who dropped out of the race with six weeks to go) and was also one of the more reliable progressives in the Senate.

Lautenberg was a staunch gun reform advocate and one of his final votes was being wheeled into the Senate chamber to vote for the Manchin-Toomey bill that was ultimately defeated.  He was also key to writing the legislation that raised the national drinking age to 21 years old and was strong on environmental and transportation issues.

Nonetheless, Lautenberg will be missed politically and personally as well.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is widely expected to tab a Republican replacement (my bet would be Joe Kyrillos who lost to Bob Menendez in 2012 though that won’t make him any more liked by conservative groups) until a special election is held later in the year to finish Lautenberg’s term and then in 2014, the election for a full six-year term will be up.

It will be curious to see if Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who is running for the seat in 2014 (Lautenberg planned on retiring following this term) will jump in for the special election though it would be smart for him too.  If Rep. Frank Pallone or Rush Holt make the leap and win the special, and given New Jersey’s blue tint it won’t be shocking if they do even if Christie is on the ballot, then Booker will have to launch a primary against an incumbent.

But given Booker’s popularity, expect him to run in the special and likely win the seat back from the appointee.  One thing is for sure though, regardless of who the next Senator is (unless its Pallone), the Senate has been downgraded after the passing of Lautenberg.  Lautenberg was the last World War II veteran serving in the Senate and its truly the end of a political era in not just New Jersey but the United States.  With the retirements of Carl Levin, Tom Harkin, Jay Rockefeller and likely Thad Cochran; its a new age.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Lautenberg.