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By Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called for a special election this year to replace Frank Lautenberg, the longtime Democratic senator who died on Monday.
This decision will be criticized by some Republicans, who will view the decision as Christie giving up an opportunity to put a Republican in the Senate through 2014.
“Having someone hold that position for 18 months is not the right call,” an ally of Governor Christie told CNN. “It would be against the Christie brand – it’s not who he is, no one should have an appointed elected position for 18 months. People should have a voice and a choice for this.”
The Christie brand, as he runs for reelection this November, has so far meant he’s been able to win over the Garden State’s sizable independent and Democratic populations, and looks likely to be re-elected fairly easily.
It will be easy for him to make his case to voters in the coming weeks and months that this was a decision for them – they should get to pick the senator, not him.
Tuesday's decision no doubt will further alienate some Republican officials and conservative activists from the Blue State Republican governor who praised President Barack Obama’s handling of Superstorm Sandy in the days before the presidential election.
After all, this move will deprive Republicans in a narrowly-divided Senate of a key vote in issues such as immigration reform, and fiscal matters. Though, of course, 2016 – should Christie decided to run for president – is a long way off.
There’s something else to note about the timing of this all – the primary for the special election will be held August 13, and the special general election itself will be on October 16 – as opposed to the general election being held in November, when Christie himself will be on the ballot.
This means that a very popular Democrat like Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who is running for the Senate seat, will not be on the top of the November ballot.
This could very well mean a high Democratic turnout in October, and a better turnout for Christie’s purposes in November: a higher victory total for himself, and Republican/independent coattails instead of Democratic ones, bringing more Republicans into the state legislature.
Of course the statute makes it clear that once Christie announced there would be a special election he had a certain amount of days to schedule the primary and a certain number of days after that to hold the special election.
But he didn’t have to announce the special election Tuesday. This way he will likely have more Republicans in the state legislature come 2014, and he gets more votes to boost his claimed mandate – and bragging rights for a Blue State Republican, should he ever need to make that case down the line.
New Jersey Republicans also argue that Tuesday's move increases the chances that Booker will have a primary, since someone like Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey - who has a war chest and may have an interest - doesn’t have to give up his congressional seat to run for the Senate, as he would likely have to do if he ran in 2014.