New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s decision Tuesday to hold a special election in mid-October to fill the open seat vacated after Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s death Monday has two beneficiaries: Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Christie himself.
A complex web of conflicting election laws could have delayed a special election until November 2014 or stacked a Senate race onto an already crowded November 2013 ballot.
Instead, Christie called for the special election three weeks earlier, on October 16, saying at a press conference, “This is about guaranteeing the people of New Jersey both a choice and a voice in the process.”
Republicans had hoped Christie would delay a vote until 2014, allowing Christie’s likely-Republican temporary appointee to serve through the end of the current Congress. “I firmly believe that the decisions that needs to be made are too great to be determined by an appointee for a period of 18 months,” Christie told reporters. “We must allow our citizens to have their say.” Instead, the appointee will serve through the special election. “I do have a list in my head,” he said of his decision to select a temporary appointee. “You all know me. I don’t dawdle.”
Though the Republican governor denied that political reasoning played a role in his decision, the timing of the special election clearly benefits the first-term governor, guaranteeing him top-billing in the November election where he is likely to cruise to a second term against state Sen. Barbara Buono.
It also benefits Booker, who was already planning to run for Lautenberg’s seat next year, by keeping him off the same ballot as Christie. The two outsized Garden State lawmakers have gone to great lengths to avoid running afoul of each other over the past several years, and they share high statewide favorability ratings.
Running on the same ballot, but for different offices, would inject uncertainty into each of their political calculations this year.
The byproduct of Christie’s decision is the addition of two more expensive statewide elections this year—a primary on August 13, and the special election two months later—that will cost the state as much as $24 million. Democrats are already criticizing the governor for making a politically motivated decision that costs taxpayers money.
“Governor Christie might not know or care how many millions of taxpayer dollars his special election gambit will waste, but the people of New Jersey certainly do,” said Democratic Governors Association Executive Director Colm O’Comartun in a statement. “Christie should do the right thing, protect New Jersey taxpayer dollars instead of his own political career, and hold the Senate election on the same day as his own.”
But that might have meant facing Buono at a moment when booker’s name also on the ballot, though in a different race. And 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.
As for the cost, Christie said he was unconcerned about that, even as he reassured local officials that the state will pick up the tab.
“The costs associated with having the special election and primary, in my mind, cannot be measured against the value of having an elected member of the U.S. Senate,” he said. “I don’t know what the costs are and quite frankly I don’t care.”