The incumbent could not be much less popular, and so New Jersey Republicans could go way outside the lines for an “outsider.”

It would be an understatement, and not at all a comment on the New Jersey governor’s girth, to say that Chris Christie casts a large shadow over this year’s election to select his successor. For eight years he has dominated his state’s politics, first as a successful bipartisan “problem-solver” with a knack for making his opponents look bad, and then a scandal-plagued punching bag and early lame duck. Until just over a year ago, his ambitions for higher office obscured his steadily declining status back home, aside from the “Bridgegate” scandal that dogged his presidential campaign. But then his close association with Donald Trump defined his national profile, and when Trump surprisingly won, it was widely assumed Christie was headed to Washington in some capacity.

Now, after being passed over for the attorney general gig he supposedly craved, leading him to turn down less exalted posts, Christie looks likely to stick out the last year of his governorship. But he may have thoroughly worn out his welcome in New Jersey. His job approval ratio fell to an abysmal 17/78 in a Quinnipiac survey at the end of January. His own lieutenant governor and the most likely Republican to succeed him, Kim Guadagno, has been trying desperately to distance herself from her former mentor and political sponsor. Another competitive GOP candidate for governor, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, hasn’t had to do that because he’s long fought Christie, and even called for his resignation for spending too much time outside the state.