NJ Gov. Chris Christie announced today that he has decided not to decide who will be the next senator from New Jersey. The death of Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg on Monday put the decision to appoint or not to appoint into Christie’s hands. He could have appointed someone immediately, he could have called for a special election anytime between now and next November, and he could have done nothing, which would have allowed the seat to remain vacant until the next regular election.
But whatever choice Christie made threatened to upend his plans for November. He had been cruising against a Democrat no-name nominee, expecting low turnout thanks to the Democrats’ lack of enthusiasm for their own candidate and all the many Democratic endorsements of himself. Had he held the special election on the same day as the general election in November, he would have saved the state about $25 million, but risked a Democrat star like Corey Booker bringing out enough Democratic voters across the state to jeopardize his own re-election. Had he appointed a conservative Republican, some of his Democratic backers may have jumped ship on him. Had he appointed a moderate Republican, he risked the ire of more conservative Republicans. Had he appointed a Democrat, he may as well have switched parties.
So, Christie punted. Pleasing no one in his own party, but maybe preserving his own re-election.
The governor’s decision, along with growing GOP expectations that his appointee will be a placeholder, means that the GOP’s chance at a pickup now looks like a long shot. But Christie protected his own interests by scheduling a separate 2013 election, ensuring that Booker wouldn’t usher a surge of Democratic voters that could hurt Christie’s November prospects.
That did little to mollify Republicans with a stake in retaking the Senate next year. While none wanted to be quoted publicly, all dripped with disdain for Christie’s decision, calling it self-serving. And several pointed to the fact that holding an extra election one month earlier could cost the state about $25 million–a price tag that could dent his image as a fiscal hawk.
“I think this ends his 2016 chances. It’s year after year with this guy,” complained one senior Republican official.
This doesn’t make the seat a total lock for the Democrats, but pretty close. They will have a contested primary now, as will the Republicans. But New Jersey is a very blue state. There are few Republicans in the state who have the clout to win statewide. Christie’s decision helps shore up the Democrats’ hold on the US Senate going into 2014.
The entire political world is learning that whatever his skills and virtues may be, and he does have them, at the end of the day Chris Christie is mostly about Chris Christie.