New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) managed to anger Republicans and Democrats at the same time on Tuesday, when he called for an Oct. 16 special election to fill the seat of Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died Monday. Democrats accused Christie of playing politics by keeping the seat off the ballot in November, when he's up for re-election. The Dems say Christie wants to be sure that he wouldn't be hurt by an expected surge in Democratic interest in the Senate vote, as Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) has made it clear he wants the seat. The GOP wanted Christie to appoint a Republican to serve through the 2014 midterms, because that would have given them another reliable vote in the Senate for a whole year.
Christie insisted there was no partisan calculus behind his decision. "The political purpose is to give the people a voice," Christie said. "The issues facing the United States Senate are too important not to have an elected representative making those decisions." Neither party appeared satisfied with his explanation, though.
Which side does the governor's decision to hold a snap election really hurt more? Josh Kraushaar at National Journal suggests it might be Republicans, as they are the ones truly fuming. Not only is Christie refusing to appoint a conservative to serve through 2014, but he is signaling he wants to appoint someone who doesn't plan to run to keep the job. That, Kraushaar says, leaves little time for some other Republican to mount a credible challenge to likely Democratic candidate Booker, who is campaigning to be the first African-American to be elected statewide in New Jersey.
The governor's decision, along with growing GOP expectations that his appointee will be a placeholder, means that the GOP's chance at a pickup now looks like a long shot...
While [no Republican] wanted to be quoted publicly, all dripped with disdain for Christie's decision, calling it self-serving. And several pointed to the fact that holding an extra election one month earlier could cost the state about $25 million — a price tag that could dent his image as a fiscal hawk. [National Journal]
Senate Democrats are probably quite pleased that Christie didn't cut into their narrow majority by naming a conservative to fill the reliably liberal Lautenberg's seat through next year. But not all Democrats are happy, particularly those in New Jersey. Booker will have to reverse a pledge to serve out his current term if he wants to run this year, an awkward reversal. But Zeke J. Miller at TIME suggests the real loser here is state Sen. Barbara Buono, the Democrat who is challenging the popular Christie in November and could have used the turnout boost expected had the charismatic Booker been on the November ballot.
That would have drawn African Americans to the polls on the same day that Christie faced re-election. It is unlikely that Christie would have captured many of those votes. [TIME]
Both sides are right about one thing — Christie's move probably helps him. Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics points out that if Christie had interpreted New Jersey's fuzzy law to mean that he could install a GOP stalwart to serve through next year, he would have faced a bitter Democratic lawsuit that would have hurt his reelection bid in his deep blue state, as well as his presidential prospects in 2016. And by holding the special election in October rather than November, Trende says, he's increasing his chances of not just winning, but winning big, which would be good for his party.
A big win could have coattails. While Republicans are unlikely to pick up the five seats they need to take over the state Senate, and are very unlikely to pick up the nine seats they would need to control the General Assembly, Christie has been very successful implementing his agenda with a fairly unfriendly legislature. Even moving the ball slightly in his direction could make a big difference in what he can accomplish in the next few years. [Real Clear Politics]
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