Christie names Republican AG Jeffrey Chiesa to U.S. Senate

 N.J. Gov. Chris Christie announces the appointment of Attorney General Jeff Chiesa to temporarily fill the Senate seat left vacant by Frank Lautenberg. (Phil Gregory/for NewsWorks)

N.J. Gov. Chris Christie announces the appointment of Attorney General Jeff Chiesa to temporarily fill the Senate seat left vacant by Frank Lautenberg. (Phil Gregory/for NewsWorks)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie named a longtime colleague, state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, to temporarily fill the U.S. Senate seat Thursday that opened up this week after Frank Lautenberg’s death.

Chiesea, who worked with Christie in the U.S. attorney’s office before becoming the top lawyer for the state government, won’t seek the office in an October election to fill the seat, Christie said.

Chiesa, a Republican, was Christie’s chief counsel until he was nominated in December 2011 to be attorney general.

While he has loved being attorney general, Chiesa said he is honored to accept the Senate appointment.

“It’s an extraordinary opportunity. There’s some disruption for my family life because there will be some time I’ll be spending in Washington, but it’s an incredible chance to serve,” he said.

Chiesa has known the governor for more than 20 years. Their relationship began when Christie interviewed Chiesa as a law clerk for the firm Dughi & Hewit. Chiesa would spend nine years in the U.S. attorney’s office before leaving for a short stint as a partner at the law firm of Wolff & Samson. He then worked on Christie’s transition team.

Christie said Chiesa is the best person for the job.

“You won’t find, I think, anybody who has anything bad to say about Jeff,” Christie said. “I think that is a reflection on his integrity and his personality, and I think sending that kind of person during these times to the United States Senate is something they need.”

As attorney general, he has overseen gun buyback programs all over the state, but has not had a particularly high profile.

Raised in Bound Brook, he attended the University of Notre Dame as an undergrad and went on to get a law degree from the Catholic University of America. He is married with a son and a daughter.

Christie has scheduled a special election for October to fill the seat until it expires in January 2015. Whoever wins in October would have to run again in the fall of 2014.

Lautenberg served nearly 30 years in the Senate. The liberal Democrat was 89.

Congressman Holt first to declare candidacy

The races will shape up quickly because of a deadline Monday for candidates to file papers declaring they are in the race. A primary is set for August.

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt became the first Democrat to announce he’s seeking his party’s nomination.

In an email Thursday to supporters, he explained why he’s running. “The reason is simple,” he wrote. “I believe I am the best candidate to continue the passionate advocacy for progressive values that Sen. Lautenberg exemplified.”

Holt, now 64, was assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory for most of the 1990s before being elected to Congress in 1998. Around his central New Jersey district, it’s not uncommon to see a bumper sticker that proclaims, accurately: “My congressman IS a rocket scientist.”

He’s considered one of the most liberal members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation. He’s pushed for laws against racial profiling and has been critical of drilling for oil and natural gas on public lands and waters.

Two well-funded Democrats, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, had expressed interest in the seat before Lautenberg died, but neither has made an announcement so far. Booker began raising money to seek the seat in January and has brought in about $2 million.

The only Republican in the race so far is former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, a conservative who has twice sought his party’s nomination for governor.

Lonegan, who runs the New Jersey office for American for Prosperity, said Wednesday that he looks forward to weighing in on national issues such as the Obama administration’s handling of the attack last year at the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, and the selective scrutiny of conservative groups’ nonprofit tax applications.

WHYY’s Phil Gregory contributed to this report.

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