Feature

Christie’s Senate seat strategy

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie angered members of both parties by announcing a special election to fill the seat of Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie angered both Republicans and Democrats this week by announcing an October special election to fill the seat of Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died this week (see Obituaries). The Republican sidestepped two conflicting options under state laws: He could have appointed a replacement to serve until the November 2014 election, or held a special election this Nov. 5—the same day he is up for re-election himself. Christie reportedly avoided the latter option because popular Newark Mayor Cory Booker is expected to get the Democratic nomination for the Senate and would draw many Democrats to the polls, cutting into Christie’s expected large margin of victory.

Christie said he would quickly appoint an interim senator to serve until Oct. 16, when the special election would guarantee “the people of New Jersey both a choice and a voice in the process.”

Holding a special election 20 days before election day is a shameless move, said the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger in an editorial—one that will cost taxpayers $25 million. There’s only one reason for this “purely self-serving” decision: Christie wants to win the gubernatorial election by 30 points to show national Republicans he’s a strong presidential candidate who can win in blue states in 2016.

He’s wasted a big opportunity for the GOP, said Daniel Foster in NationalReview.com. Christie was well within his rights to fill the seat with a Republican until November 2014. That extra vote would have helped Senate conservatives “fend off the Obama agenda” for another 17 months, and allowed a Republican appointee to build visibility and support before running for the seat. Typically, Christie put his own political interests over those of his party.

This decision is a work of “political genius,” said Sean Trende in RealClearPolitics.com. By refusing to appoint a Republican for a full year, Christie comes off as less partisan, which will help him win votes in New Jersey, where Democrats and Independents dominate. And by placing the special election in October, he makes it more likely that he’ll get his overwhelming victory in November, which he’ll use to build momentum for his 2016 presidential campaign. Critics are whining today, but “four years from now we might look back and marvel at Christie’s adroit moves.”

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