The death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg left Chris Christie in a difficult spot. Christie’s national party now would want him to appoint a Republican to serve out Lautenberg’s term, which doesn’t expire until the end of 2014. By doing so, Christie presumably would provide the GOP with a non-liberal vote in the Senate for a year-and-a-half.
Through this course, however, Christie might alienate New Jersey voters at an inopportune time — i.e., just as he faces his own election campaign this year. Because New Jersey is a Blue State, Christie relies on his substantial appeal to independents and moderates. But these voters might well resent not being able to vote for a Senator for such a long period. Avoiding that resentment militated in favor of holding a special election sooner rather than later.
Christie opted not to deprive New Jersey of a Senator of its own choosing for an extended period of time. Thus, there will be a special election this year.
So far, so good, in my view. Christie put his sense of duty to the voters of New Jersey ahead of his sense of duty to the national Republican party. This doesn’t make me happy, but I can’t condemn Christie for making that choice.
But the decision to hold a special election this year still left Christie in a difficult spot. The natural time to hold that election would be on Election Day in November. But, as noted, Christie will be on the ballot then.
Adding a Senate race to the Election Day mix would likely bring out many Democratic voters who otherwise might very well stay home. And the last thing Christie wants is more Democratic voters in an election where he’s on the ballot.
So Christie decided to hold the special election in October. This means, of course, that the Senate race won’t affect turnout in the Governor’s race. But it also shrinks the time Republicans will have to come up with a credible opponent to face the presumptive Democratic nominee, popular Newark mayor Cory Booker, and for that opponent to become known. And it will deprive the GOP nominee of Christie’s coattails.
Accordingly, it’s fair to say that Christie’s decision wasn’t so much about putting the interests of New Jersey voters ahead of the interests of the GOP. It was more about promoting Christie’s personal interests. He gets to run without the encumbrance of a Senate race and with a new feather to add to his bipartisan (or “stick it to the Republicans”) cap — the election of a Democratic Senator in circumstances where he could have handed the seat to a Republican for an extra year.
With this move, Christie is probably finished as a viable contender for the Republican nomination for president — all the more so because he’s so far ahead in polling of the governor’s race. There is no evidence that Christie is fighting for his political life in New Jersey. He simply wants to leave nothing to chance.
I’m assuming either that Christie isn’t interested in the presidency or (more likely) has concluded that he can’t be nominated by the GOP as it is now constituted, and thus might as well make decisions that maximize his status in New Jersey.
Ironically, although Christie’s assessment of his presidential prospects is probably correct, it seems to me that those prospects are so dim mainly because of embrace of President Obama on the eve of the 2012 election. I can understand why, at this juncture, Christie is doubling-down on bipartisanship, stick it to the Republicans style. It’s more difficult for me to comprehend why he made that play in the first place.