TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Governor Chris Christie still sits atop New Jersey's political pecking order, but that's due to end in 2017 — whether his White House run is successful or not.
As Christie pursues the Republican nomination — and increasingly spends time in the first primary and caucus states of New Hampshire and Iowa — early signs are emerging that suggest what New Jersey's political future might hold: its first-ever lieutenant governor is more frequently taking on a role as acting governor and lawmakers are increasingly dropping references to the 2017 election into their rhetoric.
No one has officially declared candidacy and Christie insists he hasn't ceded his duties to Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, but it's clear that jockeying for the governor's office is underway.
Guadagno has previously said it would be disingenuous of her to say she has not considered running in 2017 but that she's focused on her duties as lieutenant governor.
The first person to hold the lieutenant governor's post since its creation, Guadagno is now more than year into a second term. She's found a niche, traveling the state to discuss bringing jobs to New Jersey and leading panels aimed at addressing issues like military base closures.
Guadagno told The Associated Press she doesn't see any change in either her role or how the state operates now that Christie is a presidential candidate.
"The way we set this up for the first time was so that we were completely together on every issue," Guadagno said. "We have one communications office; we have one policy office, one briefing office, one scheduling office. We all work together to make decisions in the governor's office and so I don't see any difference quite frankly."
And as to whether anything has changed with respect to a possible 2017 run, she wouldn't touch the subject.
"Let's create jobs in New Jersey," she said. "Let's focus on our day jobs. If we don't create jobs in New Jersey then what happens in 2017 really isn't material."
Already some potential Democratic hopefuls have taken steps to suggest they're thinking about running.
Former ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy has founded a think tank aimed at addressing the state's most pressing problems and says he's seriously considering a campaign.
Senate President Steve Sweeney, from south Jersey, regularly makes forays into other parts of the state. He recently attended a ground-breaking for a new science building at the College of New Jersey and meet with mayors in Ocean County. He's also been a supporter of moving gambling outside Atlantic City, seen as a key political position to gain support in the vote-rich northern part of the state.
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak — in a nonelection year for the Senate — has pamphlets highlighting his record hitting mailboxes beyond the borders of his district.
On the Republican side, Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick and Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. could also be potential candidates. Bramnick is focused on netting as many seats in this November's election as he can and Kean has emerged as a key negotiator with New York over the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Some others are using 2017 as the tip of their rhetorical spear. Republican lawmakers regularly say Democratic aspirations for 2017 fuel their policy decisions.
Bramnick said Democrats were backing public unions against Christie in a fight over pension to build political capital.
"There are people running for governor in 2017," Bramnick said recently. "I think they're compelled to push back at Chris Christie as opposed to look at the problems and try to find the solution."
Christie's White House bid has even prompted some Democratic lawmakers to suggest 2017 isn't soon enough for a change: Lesniak and fellow Sen. Loretta Weinberg are planning a long-shot bill that would require governors to step down if they run for president.
It's a sign, Seton Hall associate political science professor Matthew Hale said, that the state's Democratic politicians are beginning to look beyond Christie.
"I don't think he's going anywhere," Hale said. "But it tells you how much people are chomping at the bit to get rid of him."
(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
for more features.