New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called for a special election to replace Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who passed away Monday, to take place just three weeks before the general election this fall.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Christie announced that a primary would take place on Tuesday, Aug. 13, leaving candidates like Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Rep. Frank Pallone just 70 days to prepare. The general election will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 16, Christie said.
Although there was speculation Christie would try to delay the election until November 2014 — allowing an interim Republican appointee to fill Lautenberg’s seat for a full 18 months — the governor pursued an entirely different path, scheduling a special election this October.
“I want to have an elected senator as soon as possible,” said Christie, adding that he was willingly forgoing the “political advantage that would come to me” from a long-term appointee in Washington.
Christie said he was still considering who he would appoint to that role to serve until October, but did say he would choose a member of his own party.
Having the special election in October — as opposed to this November, when Christie will be on the ballot for his own reelection — will cost the state up to $12 million, according to early estimates.
The decision will likely draw fire from members of both parties inside the state: Democratic critics say Christie didn’t want the special election held on the same date as the general New Jersey election so that his name could stay at the top of the ballot; while Republicans may take issue with the spending the additional election will cost the state.
In a statement released shortly after the press conference, New Jersey Democratic Party Chairman John Wisniewski cast the October election as a “blatantly political move.”
“Democrats believe an election should be held in a timely manner, however in what appears to be a blatantly political move, the governor would rather spend $12 million in taxpayer funds on a special election when a general election is scheduled for less than three weeks later,” said Wisniewski. “Chris Christie’s decision speaks more to his national political ambitions than his responsibility to the residents of New Jersey as governor.”
But Christie said that it would have been impossible to hold the senate election this November, “unless I delayed my decision for another 10 days,” he said. “That’s just irresponsible, and I wouldn’t think it’s right for the people of New Jersey.”
“The option to have it on the general is not an option,” he said.
As for the cost associated with the senate election, said Christie, “the state will be responsible for all the costs associated.”
“I dont know what the cost is, and I quite frankly don’t care,” Christie added.
The announcement sets the New Jersey senate race rolling more than a year in advance, and forces Booker, Pallone, and other interested candidates like Rep. Rush Holt, to put their campaigns into high-gear.
Booker, the most high-profile candidate vying to replace Lautenberg, had previously said he wouldn’t announce his senate campaign formally until after this year’s governor’s race.
Before leaving the room, Christie added to the reporters attending, “For all of you who are bored of the governor’s race, I have solved your problem.”