Before he gets to take on Menendez, Kyrillos would have to decide for sure whether he's running for Senate and survive a potential primary, if there is one.
Analysts and partisans view Kyrillos as a potentially strong candidate, able to raise money, discuss the issues, and mount a statewide race in 2012, when Democratic President Obama is up for reelection.
"He's a credible candidate," said Sharon Schulman, head of the Hughes Center at Richard Stockton College. "He stands on his own merit."
And it couldn't hurt that he is a member of Gov. Christie's inner circle. He cochaired the governor's campaign committee and was chairman of the Republican State Committee between 2001 and 2004.
Kyrillos, 51, of Middletown Township, is a commercial real estate broker.
Though he has run for federal office only once before, losing to U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone in 1992, Kyrillos has some federal experience. After a stint as a staffer for the Reagan-Bush presidential campaign, he worked for the U.S. Department of the Interior. But he wanted to be elected to office on his own merit, so he ran and won a seat in the New Jersey Assembly in 1987. He was first elected to the state Senate in 1991.
When Republicans controlled the Senate, he was chairman of committees on coastal resources and tourism as well as economic development and natural resources.
While in the Legislature, Kyrillos has specialized in economic development, accountability standards for public schools, a college-savings plan, and a program to stabilize funding for shore protection.
Should he eventually face Menendez, Kyrillos would face a relentless campaigner who was appointed to the Senate in 2006 and then elected to the seat.
Menendez grew up in the raw-knuckle politics of Hudson County, serving as mayor of Union City and as a state legislator. Interestingly, he and Kyrillos were both first elected to the state Senate in 1991. Menendez, 57, of Hoboken, went to the U.S. House in 1992 and rose to the position of majority leader. He headed the National Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2010.
Menendez has most recently called for an end to tax breaks for oil companies and fought to increase the amount of money they should pay for cleanups after the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. On Monday, he spoke in Elizabeth against cuts to Medicare.
His campaign consultant, Brad Lawrence, said Menendez has long prepared for this race, expecting a credible Republican candidate backed by his party.
He said Menendez "operates as if it will be a difficult race. He doesn't take anything for granted."
Contact staff writer Cynthia Burton at 856-779-3858 or firstname.lastname@example.org.