With the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) passing away yesterday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) found himself in an awkward, election-year position. As of this afternoon, he's choosing an unexpected course, intended to do as little political damage as possible.
Gov. Chris Christie today called for a primary election and a special election this year to fill U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg's seat , saying the issues facing the country are "too great" to leave the position vacant.Christie said the Democratic and Republican primaries would be held on Aug. 13, and the general election on Oct. 16.
This wasn't supposed to be one of the governor's choices. Christie was basically supposed to pursue one of two unattractive options. First, he could appoint a temporary replacement to serve until the end of Lautenberg's term in 2014, at which point there would be an election, which Newark Mayor Corey Booker (D) would be expected to win. If Christie chose this course, however, Democrats would have sued and likely won.
Second, he could schedule the special election for this November, which would be convenient since the Garden State is holding statewide elections that day anyway. Christie, however, didn't care for this, because if Democrats turned out in greater numbers on Election Day -- to, say, vote for Booker -- it might undermine the governor's own chances at re-election.
Today, Christie chose Door #3: he's scheduled the Senate special election for October 16 -- a Wednesday -- even though the state will have other statewide elections a few weeks later, and this election will cost the cash-strapped state an extra $12 million. [Update: there are other uses for that money.]
"There's no reason not to have the special election outside the date of general election." state Sen. John Wisniewski , the state Democratic chairman, said before Christie's announcement. "The decision to hold an election one month before the general elections seems to be politically motivated, not governmentally motivated."
Ya don't say.
The governor will also name an interim senator, to serve until the special election, and he or she will be introduced next week.
GOP officials were reportedly pushing for the governor to hold the Senate special election the same day as his own re-election, thinking that Christie supporters would turn out and give the yet-unnamed Republican candidate a better chance at success. By choosing this route, the governor helps himself, but not his party.
As for the Chris Christie "brand," he's supposed to be the tough, confident leader who doesn't shy away from a fight. The fact that he's ducking this fight -- despite an enormous lead in the polls -- won't do his reputation any favors.