Political pundits have widely speculated that Newark Mayor Cory Booker could challenge New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie next year. The logic behind such predictions makes sense: the Garden State is a decidedly blue state and Booker is a popular mayor with a knack for finding his way into the national spotlight. (Running into a flaming building to save your neighbor’s daughter tends to help.) It also doesn’t hurt that a Booker-Christie battle is one that political observers would no doubt love to see given the excitement it would drum up in one of the nation’s largest media markets.

While that showdown is still very much a possibility (the last time we checked our calendar says it’s still 2012), the fact that Christie’s popularity with New Jersey voters is currently approaching Springsteen-like levels has speculation shifting to a different path to the national stage for Booker. Instead, the new theory goes, he would be smarter to pursue the path of least resistance, which in this case would involve a 2014 run for Senate. The Washington Post explains:

The new poll from Democratic automated pollster Public Policy Polling shows that Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) has worn out his welcome. Just 36 percent of New Jersey Democrats think he should run for another term (Lautenberg would be 90 in 2014), and almost three times as many prefer Booker as their nominee (59 percent) over Lautenberg (22 percent).

Even in a crowded primary with Reps. Rob Andrews and Frank Pallone, Booker would begin the race with a 30-point lead. And in the general, he would start out with a 23-point lead on Christie’s No. 2, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R).

If Booker opts for a Senate run in two years as opposed to the high-drama battle for governor next year, the most likely scenario would probably involve Democrats giving Lautenberg a nudge out the door ahead of a primary. But even if the then-90-year-old senator decided to stay put, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he could hold his own with Booker given his rising profile.

It’s worth pointing out, of course, that it’s all speculation at this point. Booker hasn’t committed one way or the other on a gubernatorial run, a Senate campaign or anything else that may come up.