“There’s no political purpose. The political purpose is to give the people a voice,” Christie said in announcing his decision today.
But there is political impact. New Jersey will elect a new senator Oct. 16 — a mere 20 days before the state’s gubernatorial election, in which Christie is the undisputed frontrunner for a second term.
That means Christie’s race will top the ballot Nov. 5, instead of a Senate race that could well feature Newark Mayor Cory Booker. The intense interest in the Senate race — in solidly blue New Jersey, in a race that could feature an African-American Democratic rising star — would have almost certainly siphoned votes from Christie.
Insisting on a special election instead of a long-serving interim appointee frees him from making a selection that almost assuredly would not be acceptable to the cantankerous conservatives who have instilled fear and loathing up and down the GOP leadership ladder. It also saves his bipartisan reputation, which the red governor of a blue state needs to maintain if he is to translate his 32 percent lead over his Democratic opponent into votes.
What’s not making budget-conscious conservatives or even Garden State Democrats happy at the outset is the estimated $24 million total price tag for the Aug. 13 primary and Oct. 16 general election. It took a nanosecond for Democrats to highlight that tidy sum.
Democrats say Christie faces an excruiating choice on whom he appoints. As David Axelrod, the strategist behind President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 victories put it: “Fascinating dilemma for Christie. Does he name interim who reflects his more moderate state, or feed Tea Party for ’16?” They also assert that conflicts in state law may force Christie to hold a special election for the seat as early as November of this year, when he will also be on the ballot for a second term…
As for Christie’s being under pressure to appoint a hard-shell conservative to the seat, every New Jersey conservative I spoke with is realistic. “As much as I’d like to see a Steve Forbes or Bret Schundler get the appointment, I realize Christie’s not going there,” one told me. “I think we can get someone who is solid on the key issues and also can win in the Northeast.” He points out that, of the 22 Senators from the region, the GOP currently has only three – Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire, Susan Collins from Maine, and Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania.
Democrats teed off on Christie after his announcement at a news conference. The governor’s 2014 Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono, called the governor’s move “cynical and arrogant” and said Christie “made it clear that he does not care about wasting taxpayer money.”…
Matt Canter, deputy executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, made that point when responding to the special election dates.
“Republicans have not won a Senate race in New Jersey in more than 40 years. Their only shot was an appointee who had a year-and -a-half to establish themselves before an election in 2014,” he said. “With this news I assume operatives at the NRSC are busy planning Christie’s defeat in Iowa and New Hampshire right now.”
Republicans will not have a senator who gets more than a year to build a record. Nor will they get a nominee who gets a spot on the ballot with Christie. Winning a Senate seat in this blue state is always an uphill climb for the GOP but as recently as Monday it looked like there might be a path to creating more favorable circumstances. That no longer looks to be the case. It’s not impossible for Republicans to win — a low turnout October election and the potential for a heated Democratic primary are two things the GOP can try to exploit. But this looks like a big lift for the [Democratic] party right now.
First of all, New Jersey law has conflicting provisions on how long a governor’s Senate appointment can last until an election. In this case, it meant either this November or next. Christie might have helped out the national party (marginally) by sticking to his 2014 guns and appointing someone in the meantime, but he would have faced a messy political court battle which he might have lost. Do you want to be the governor who went to court to prevent an election from happening? And what if you lose on top of it all, in your own reelection year?
So instead, Christie rendered the legal dispute moot by doing something that both of the conflicting provisions allow him to do as an alternative — he called a special election. And in doing so, he went with the strict letter of the law in calling it for October 16. Contrary to what some are saying today, he could not have chosen November 5, even if he had wanted to…
[P]rovided he made the proclamation of Lautenberg’s vacancy today, the latest he could have legally set the election was at the end of October. Christie made a point of mentioning that the primary is 70 days from today, and the general election is 64 days after that — the earliest possible date.
Now, I can’t find anything in the statute that says Christie could not have waited a few weeks before issuing a proclamation — theoretically, this might have let him set the election for November 5. But this might also carry some legal implication I don’t know about, and it could have also complicated the appointment of a new senator.
Mr. Christie might also be interested in helping Republican candidates for the State Legislature. Democrats control both the Senate and the Assembly, but all seats will be up on the Nov. 5 ballot. With a popular Republican governor heading the ticket and no interference from the United States Senate race, the G.O.P. might have a better chance of winning one or both chambers.
Of course, Mr. Christie could also have used his coattails to help his party’s United States Senate nominee. His move might suggest that his ambitions remain mainly in New Jersey, and less on the national stage. Then again, being re-elected — and having a more successful second term with less Democratic opposition in the State Legislature — could also leave him in a stronger position were he to run for president in 2016…
While some national Republicans are annoyed with Mr. Christie’s decision, they may not be privy to all the information he had about which Republican candidates might have been interested in Mr. Lautenberg’s seat. It’s plausible that Mr. Christie could have helped a reasonably good G.O.P. nominee to a narrow victory. But if none were interested in the race, it may have been a lost cause.
The entire political world is learning that whatever his skills and virtues may be, and he does have them, at the end of the day Chris Christie is mostly about Chris Christie.