New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s Democratic opponent this fall says his decision to hold an October special election to replace the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, rather than a concurrent election three weeks later on Election Day, was a purely political move by the Republican.
“It’s a cynical decision on his part, and arrogant,” Democratic nominee Barbara Buono said on Wednesday’s The Daily Rundown.
Christie on Tuesday set the special election to replace Lautenberg for Oct. 16, just three weeks before he faces Buono on Nov. 5. Lautenberg, passed away earlier this week at age 89.
The October date, and preceding August primary, will cost the state approximately $24 million, and Christie’s critics have said that could have been avoided if it had been held concurrently with the regular general election.
Christie defended that decision on Tuesday, saying cost shouldn’t matter, and the earlier date was “about guaranteeing the people of New Jersey both a choice and a voice in the process…The right thing to do is to let the people decide, and let them decide as soon as possible.”
But Christie’s decision irked practically everyone on both sides of the aisle – national Republicans wanted a November 2014 date, so that a Christie-appointed Republican would stay much longer in the Senate. State Democrats wanted what’s likely to be a high-profile race on the November 2013 ballot, to help boost Buono and other state legislative candidates downballot.
With a paltry 350,000 voters turning out in Tuesday’s statewide primaries, Buono said the October special election would attract even lower turnout – a calculation she said factored into Christie’s decision.
“We see two Chris Christies,” said Buono. “This reeks of politics.”
Buono argued Christie doesn’t want to be on the same ballot as other popular state Democratic politicians, such as Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who was already running for Senate, or Rep. Frank Pallone, also likely to run in a special election.
“This will benefit him to the latest degree and hurt him the least,” said Buono.
But even in the blue state – and nationwide – Christie remains immensely popular. The possible 2016 presidential candidate had some of the highest ratings across the board in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out Wednesday, with 40% of Republicans, 41% of independents, and even 43% of Democrats seeing him in a positive light.
That’s translated into wide support for his re-election bid. In an NBC News/Marist poll last month, Christie had a more than two-to-one lead over Buono, including 42% of Obama voters.
Buono said the governor’s approval ratings would soon fall, and that his popularity has been overstated in the wake of his leadership in the wake of Hurricane Sandy last fall.
“The polls are a function of name ID,” said Buono. “The governor has an artificially inflated number because of Sandy, and we know the afterglow is about to fade.”