Avoiding a showdown with Democrats over a special election to fill the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s Senate seat, Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced on Tuesday that the election would be held this year.
Democratic and Republican primaries to fill the vacant seat will be held on Aug. 13 and the general election will be on Oct. 16, Christie said at a news conference. In the meantime, Christie will make a temporary appointment to fill the seat, but he did not indicate who that would be.
Lautenberg’s death on Monday set the stage for a partisan battle over when to hold a special election to fill the empty seat. Democrats saw an opportunity to get popular Newark Mayor Cory Booker on the ballot in November 2013; Republicans hoped to avoid having Christie, who is up for re-election this year, running at the same time as Booker. New Jersey’s bizarre election statute was unclear about when to hold the special election.
Democrats and progressive groups were already gearing up for a political fight, threatening to go to court over the issue and beginning to circulate petitions, when Christie decided to nip the problem in the bud. Christie’s decision is politically smart in two ways: Holding the election before his own spares him the challenge of sharing a ballot with Booker, who is widely expected to run, while also avoiding a political battle with Democrats over the issue. For Christie, a battle with Democrats in an election year was less desirable than the benefits of holding the election next year.
But Christie did leave Democrats one opening: Setting up a special election rather than holding it on the regular election day (Nov. 5) will cost the state of New Jersey an estimated $12 million, according to the state Office of Legislative Services, a fact the governor’s opponents will surely use to attack him.