• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

Christie Sets October 2013 Special Election For Senate, Annoys Conservatives

Chris Christie 2

Just one day after we learned of the death of long-time Senator Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has already gotten the ball rolling on the process of choosing his replacement:

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, in a decision fraught with political implications, announced on Tuesday that he would schedule a special election in October for the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Frank R. Lautenberg.

The decision, setting the vote for Oct. 16, a Wednesday, is expected to draw criticism from Democrats in the state, who are likely to argue that the move by Mr. Christie, a Republican, amounted to squandering taxpayer money to protect his own political ambitions. A special election will cost millions of dollars more than just adding the vote to the November ballot, when the governor is up for re-election.

Mr. Christie, anticipating such criticism, said the expense “cannot be measured against the value of having an elected representative in the United States Senate when so many consequential issues are being debated and determined this year.”

A special ballot means the choice of a new senator will not overshadow the race for governor. Republicans in the state are counting on Mr. Christie, who has been hoping that a landslide re-election victory will help propel a possible run for president in 2016, to draw his supporters to the polls, helping Republican candidates for the State Legislature and for many local offices.

Mr. Christie said he had yet to decide on whom he would appoint to fill the seat between now and the special election. He said he made no distinction between so-called caretaker appointees and those who would be candidates for the seat. “I’m going to pick a person I believe to be the best person,” he said.

“I do have a list in my head,” he added. “You all know me. I don’t dawdle.”

In any case, he is expected to pick a Republican.

Conflicting New Jersey statutes on how to fill Senate vacancies left him with at least two other options about when to schedule the election.

Republicans nationally were pressing him to opt for an interpretation that would allow him to delay an election until November 2014. That would have allowed Mr. Christie’s choice of an interim senator to give Republicans in the Senate the gift of an extra vote, complicating efforts by the White House and Congressional Democrats to advance their agenda, like overhauling immigration laws and pushing through presidential nominations.

Just as important, it would let a Republican enjoy a year and a half of incumbency – perhaps enough to counteract Democrats’ natural advantages in a state where they outnumber Republicans by 700,000 registered voters and where Republican have not won a Senate election in 41 years.

Democrats, meanwhile, were pressing Mr. Christie to add the Senate contest to the state ballot this November. But Republican insiders said Mr. Christie and others in his party were leery of drawing to the polls Democrats who were excited about the Senate contest. A Senate race would also have been placed at the top of state ballots, ahead of the contest for governor.

There will be primaries for both the Democratic and Republican parties on August 13th, and the General Election will take place on October 16th, meaning that there will be two parallel elections going on in New Jersey this year, the race for the Senate seat, and the race for Governor and the State Legislature. Given that Christie chose to make this announcement, and sign the appropriate documents, today the dates themselves were mostly out of control given that the statutes that control the scheduling of a Special Election require the primary elections to be held within a specific amount of time after the Governor has made the declaration, and for the General Election to take place within a specific amount of time after the date of the Primary Elections. As Christie noted at his press conference today, once he signed the writ calling for the Special Election today, the dates pretty much set themselves, meaning most importantly that there was no longer the option of having the Special Election for the Senate seat on the same day as the November 5th General Election.

Obviously, Christie could have waited the ten or so days it would have taken for the timing to work out in such a way that he could have set the Special Election for November 5th, but he had a ready made answer for that. The people of New Jersey, he said, deserve to have an elected Senator in office representing them as soon as practically possible. So, given the fact that the statutes give him the complete discretionary authority to set a Special Election without regard for the date of the General Election, he is going ahead and setting the date as early as possible.  That is the kind of “doing my job for the people of New Jersey” message that has worked very well for him over the past four years, and it’s likely to work very well for him now regardless of what heavily partisan Republicans might think about it.

Are there political machinations behind Christie’s decision? Obviously there are. Putting the Special Election before the General Election undercuts the possibility that having the Senate race, and most likely Cory Booker, on the November ballot would increase Democratic turnout and blunt any hopes that Republicans might have to pick up seats in the legislature, which is by no means guaranteed anyway. Additionally, it guarantees that the media coverage in the state after October 16th will be focuses exclusively on the state-level elections. If the Senate race were on the November ballot, it would get most of the media attention since it’s blindingly obvious that Christie is going to be re-elected. Despite these political motives, it doesn’t strike me that Christie is going to suffer much for this decisions among New Jerseyans, especially given that he has sold the decision on wanting to let the people choose a new Senator as soon as possible.

Of course, while New Jersey voters will likely be just fine with this decision, the same cannot be said of national Republicans:

Republicans are fuming over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to hold an early special election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, with several Washington-based operatives suggesting he’s putting his own interests ahead of the GOP’s. The decision to hold a separate special election in October 2013—just two weeks before his own election—would give any interested Republican candidates little time to announce, organize a campaign, and raise the necessary money to take on a top-tier Democrat, likely Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

(….)

“There’s no political purpose. 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.”

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. But Christie protected his own interests by scheduling a separate 2013 election, ensuring that Booker wouldn’t usher a surge of Democratic voters that could hurt Christie’s November prospects.

That did little to mollify Republicans with a stake in retaking the Senate next year. While none 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.

“I think this ends his 2016 chances. It’s year after year with this guy,” complained one senior Republican official.

I’m seeing similar reactions from conservatives online, many of whom are saying that Christie is betraying his party by not pushing the Special Election out to November 2014, which one provision of New Jersey law would permit him to do. Of course, as I noted yesterday, there is a conflict in New Jersey law regarding when an election must be held to fill a Senate vacancy. Even given the near-total authority that both statutes give the Governor in setting Special Elections, it seems rather clear that if he had tried to push that election out to a point 17 months from now that New Jersey Democrats would have tried to fight it in some way. While Christie is clearly not afraid of political fights, it strikes me that this one would have not been in his interests. A November 2014 Special Election would clearly have been seen as a move designed to help the GOP by giving them a Senate vote for the next year and a half, as well as allowing whomever he appoints to build up a resume for that election. That would have been inconsistent with the independent, no-nonsense approach he’s taken to governing since taking office and, I think, against his nature as a politician. Republicans may not like it, but this is pure Chris Christie and not at all surprise.

The one question that remains unanswered is who Christie might appoint to fill the Senate seat until the winner of the October 16th Special Election is known and able to be sworn into office. At today’s press conference, he didn’t give a timetable for when he would make that decision other than to say that he doesn’t intend to dither over the decision, nor did he give any hint as to what kind of appointment he’s looking at here. For example, is he looking to appoint someone who will be a placeholder, meaning someone who won’t run for the office, or is he looking to put his thumb on the scale of the eventual Republican Senate Primary by picking someone who will be running for the seat and, by picking them, essentially endorsing that person in the primary. Given what he did say in the press conference, as well as some reports that were leaking out before then, it strikes me that he’s most likely going to end up picking a placeholder rather than essentially inserting himself in the Senate race. Indeed, I would not be surprised to see Christie stay completely out of the GOP Primary and let the voters make their choice.

If Christie goes for a placeholder there are, as I noted yesterday, several elder statesmen and women on the Republican side that he could pick that would be quite acceptable to the voters. The name that pops up most frequently is former Governor Tom Kean, who essentially bowed out of electoral politics after leaving office in 1990. Kean is 78 years old so he’s unlikely to be interested in running for a Senate seat at this point, and he’s the kind of moderate Republican that is consistent with Christie’s own brand, and he remains very popular among New Jersey voters despite the fact that he’s been out of the public eye for the most part for 20-odd years. If Christie wants to pick a candidate who will run for the office, then he has a whole host of options to choose from. However, while it’s possible he’ll take that route, I don’t think it’s very likely. If his pick isn’t Kean Sr., or some other similar placeholder appointee, then I will be very surprised.

Already, the talking heads are discussing what this might mean for Christie in 2016. One thing that strikes me about this commentary is that it assumes both that Christie is seriously thinking about running for President at this point, and that he’s making decisions in New Jersey with specific calculation about how they’ll impact his chances in a 2016 Presidential Primary. I’ve seen no evidence of that from Christie so far. When asked about whether he’s running, Christie continues to demur rather than answering the question. More importantly, if Christie does run in 2016, it won’t be as a conservative Republican, it will be on a platform of competence in office, putting the people ahead of party, and telling the truth. It may not be the message that the far right wants to hear, but it just might be one that will resonate with the people who actually vote.  In either case, Christie will be himself, which is really all that he can be.

Here’s the video of Christie’s announcement:

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. stonetools says:

    He would be condemned no matter he did. Glad he made a quick decision.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  2. Mr. Replica says:

    “Annoys Conservatives”

    Sure seems to me that this is extremely easy nowadays.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 1

  3. @stonetools:

    To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if this isn’t something that Christie and his advisers had been thinking through for some time,. Lautenberg’s health has been failing since December, and he’s been absent from the Senate for most of the year (the one exception being when he showed up in April to vote for the gun control measures the Senate was considering). The idea that he wasn’t going to survive until the end of his term in December 2014 was hardly without reason.

    Yea, it’s kind of a morbid discussion to be having, but planning for contingencies is what people do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  4. edmondo says:

    I would suspect he choses his current Lt Governor as the replacement senator. She is on the ballot with him this November (and hence the timing – she has this gig until October), when Cory comes into the seat but her resume is polished so it looks like she is a staesman when he resigns to run to president in 2016.

    BTW – I don’t see this guy playing very well west of the Delaware River. He’s a big-mothed bully who forgets that You Tube exists. He’s got a constituency but it’s small/ He’s what Frank Rizzo would look like with a college degree.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  5. edmondo,

    I tend to doubt it. First of all, it then creates the problem of having to find a replacement running mate after the primaries are over, and I’m not even sure how that would be handled under NJ law. Second of all, Lt. Gov. Guadagno also serves as the Secretary of State (mostly because NJ’s Lt Gov has very limited duties to begin with) and would be in charge of supervising the election and setting the applicable rules. Finally, Guandango’s resume before becoming LG is somewhat thin. I think she’d rather stay in her current position in the hopes of capitalizing it into a run for Governor in 2017.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. Moosebreath says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I tend to agree. I think Christie will try to make up for this by appointing a red-meat conservative to the seat.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. edmondo says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Doug,

    This is N J. She’s allowed to run as the GOP Lt Governor nominee even if she is a sitting US senator.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. edmondo says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Doug,

    This is NJ. She stays the Lt Gov nominee even as a US Senator. As faras being Secretary of state, she counts the votes in November even though her name is on the ballot, what kind of conflict of interest is that?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. CSK says:

    @Moosebreath:

    It depends on what you mean by a “red meat conservative.” To the fringe right, that means someone whose priorities are getting God back into the schools, gays back into the closet, guns into everyone’s hands, and no abortions for any reason. I doubt if there’s any NJ Republican politician who fits that bill. I doubt if there are many New Jersey Republican voters who fit that bill. If by “red meat conservative,” you mean someone like Christie himself, yes. Conservative on fiscal issues, but liberal, libertarian, or laissez-faire on social issues. Christie has, in the past, described himself as pro-life, but he appears to regard that as an issue best left to individuals to decide for themselves.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Caj says:

    Oh boy! Chris Christie has done it now. He will no longer be a Republican. He is now officially a RINO. The tea party will lose their minds alongside other Republicans over this decision. Might as well put a fork in Chris Christie as he is done. He won’t make it past the primaries should he choose to run. He has cozied up to President Obama once too often and now, not choosing a Republican to fill the seat he will be seen as the devil incarnate. Heads will be exploding all over the place. People better duck around any Republicans!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. Dazedandconfused says:

    Minor quibble:

    Republicans and reactionary’s aren’t necessarily “Conservatives”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  12. wr says:

    Generally I really loathe this man — I think he’s a creep and a bully and most of his policies are toxic. But I was very impressed with what he’s done here. I saw his announcement and actually believed he was doing the right thing for the right reasons.

    Go figure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  13. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    The intereting thing to me is that the headline from the NYT web feed on my home page said “state Democrats angered.” Hmmmmm….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. trumwill says:

    Conservatives have shown absolutely no indication of a desire to win anything in New Jersey or anywhere on the east coast north of Virginia.

    It’s pretty rich for them to get all haughty and pretend to care now.

    I think they’re mostly just invested in the notion that Christie is a RINO and will find any and every opportunity to justify their previous treatment of him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  15. Jeremy R says:

    @wr:

    Don’t give him too much credit. He did schedule this three weeks earlier than his own election, at the same cost of the 2012 early voting extension he balked at for being too expensive to allow. He’s going to win easily, and would have either way, but this will allow him to run up the score.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  16. Moosebreath says:

    @CSK:

    I think Christie will appoint someone who will be flat out pro-life, who will oppose any gun legislation not endorsed by the NRA and who will not stray from party orthodoxy on many other items either. If his appointee provides the 60th vote for cloture on any Democratic proposal, Christie knows his chance in 2016 (which is not too great as it is, but I think Christie thinks is far larger than I do) goes away in a puff of smoke.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. wr says:

    @Jeremy R: I do know that, and it was in the back of my mind even as I was typing. But doing at least partly the same thing? For a Republican? His peers are busy condemning their citizens to horrible death because they’re too pure to take federal Medicaid money…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jeremy R:

    He’s going to win easily, and would have either way, but this will allow him to run up the score.

    I don’t think he is doing it for his own numbers but rather so that it does not impact the down ticket races in favor of the Dems.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. Moosebreath says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Very likely — the state legislature is controlled by the Democrats currently, and Christie’s hoping to flip it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. pylon says:

    This is pretty calculating. Christie knows that if he ran the special on the same day as his next general election, a lot of Dems and especially black voters will come out to vote for Booker.

    Now, they will come out for the special and I bet turnout for Dems and black voters will be lower than usual for the general, which ensures re-election for Christie.

    Now where it might backfire is for the Repub nomination for 2016. Christie knows, however, that time heals those kinds of wounds and maybe the Repubs will be swining moderate by then (not that he is a true moderate).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. pylon says:

    “swining” = “swinging”. It wasn’t a weight joke.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. Woody says:

    I think this is was a well-planned-out maneuver that was very sharp indeed.

    My guess is that, aside from the New Jersey internal politics that I’m completely unfamiliar with, Christie and his advisors are well aware that he must neutralize the ultras in the national GOP, for he will never win them over.

    This move enables him to stress his competency as a governor, a quality in very short supply for Republicans for those outside the Murdoch/talk radio universe.

    There’s a strong possibility for a denouement for supremacy between the factions in the national GOP in 2016 – this allows Christie maximum space for movement (as a dark horse/savior in ’16 or in ’20).

    I’m not disposed toward bullies – and I believe him to be one – but to me he’s a man worth watching.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Moosebreath says:

    @Moosebreath:

    Christie’s appointment has been made. State Attorney General and long-time colleague Jeffrey Chiesa. Someone who follows NJ politics more closely than me can chime in, but he is a bit of an unknown on his actual stances.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. [...] to schedule one for 2014 and allowing a Republican appointee to serve until then. As I’ve noted before, though, that strategy was fraught with legal peril and likely would not have succeeded. [...]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0