Christie: Oct. election to fill Lautenberg seat

     At Statehouse news conference, Gov. Chris Christie announces special election to fill U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Frank Lautenberg. (Phil Gregory/for NewsWorks)

    At Statehouse news conference, Gov. Chris Christie announces special election to fill U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Frank Lautenberg. (Phil Gregory/for NewsWorks)

    N.J. Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday that he wants to hold a special election in October to fill the U.S. Senate seat made vacant by Frank Lautenberg’s death on Monday, and that he intends to appoint someone to serve in the meantime.

    The decision means the state will have two statewide elections three weeks apart.

    Who will he appoint?

    At a news conference, Christie didn’t answer the big question of whom he’ll appoint to the seat in the meantime, but said he has a list of possibilities in his head.

    “The issues facing the United States Senate are too critically important, and the decisions that need to be dealt with too vital not to have an elected representative making those decisions who was voted on and decided on by the people of this state,” Christie said.

    State Democratic Party chairman John Wisniewski criticized Christie for a plan that will cost up to $24 million in taxpayer money for the special elections — an Aug. 13 primary and the special election on Oct. 16. The general election is Nov. 5.

    And he questioned whether Christie was concerned that having the Senate race on the same day of the November gubernatorial election would increase voter turnout by Democrats.

    Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, D-Essex, also rapped the governor for not scheduling the election on the same day as the November general election.

    “Having the Senate vacancy special election on Election Day brings out Democratic voters, and I think that he knows that would be detrimental to his campaign,” she said of Christie.

    ‘A voice and a choice’

    Christie was adamant that voters should be able to decide, and quickly, who they want as their next Senator.

    As to the cost, he said he could not “put a price tag on what it’s worth to have an elected person in the United States Senate.

    “And I will do whatever I need to do to make sure those costs are covered,” Christie said. “Because all the people of the state of New Jersey will benefit from it, and we’re not going to be penny wise and pound foolish around here.”

    “The people need to have a voice and choice,” he said.

    In opting for a primary, Christie said he didn’t want “insiders and a few party elites to determine who the nominee of the Republican party and the Democratic party will be.”

    Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat, announced months ago that he was planning to seek the Senate seat.

    Lautenberg, who turned 89 in January and was the oldest member of the Senate, at first bristled at Booker’s candidacy.

    But the lawmaker, who was first elected to the Senate in 1982, announced in February that he would not seek re-election next year and would retire when his term expired at the beginning of 2015.

    Lautenberg died after suffering complications from pneumonia. A funeral is scheduled for Wednesday.

    Primary day

    Tuesday is New Jersey’s gubernatorial and legislative primary day. There’s not much intrigue expected in the elections.

    There was, however, deep intrigue and speculation over who will fill the Senate seat in the short-term and when the election might be, and how Christie would navigate a difficult course.

    If he names a Republican to the seat, it would certainly upset Democrats who say the seat belongs to their party. If he chooses a Democrat, it could upset members of the governor’s own party as he considers whether to run for president in 2016.

    New Jersey has not elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972.

    The last Republican to serve in the Senate was Nicholas Brady, who was appointed in 1982 to finish the term of Democrat Harrison Williams, who resigned amid scandal in the last year of his term. 

    Lautenberg won the seat later that year and remained in the Senate until his death, except for a brief retirement in 2001 and 2002.

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