New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie went with the earliest possible date when he called for an October election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg — effectively disconnecting his own November re-election bid from the Senate seat fight.
The Republican governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate could have named a replacement to serve the remaining 18 months of Mr. Lautenberg’s term. But Mr. Christie instead chose to hold a primary election Aug. 13 and a general special election Oct. 16 — just three weeks before voters return to the polls in the gubernatorial election to decide whether he gets another term in office.
“I firmly believe that the decisions that need to be made in Washington are too great to be determined by an appointee for a period of 18 months,” Mr. Christie said during a news conference Tuesday in Trenton. “We must allow our citizens to have their say over who will represent them in the Senate the majority of the next year and a half. The people of New Jersey deserve to have that voice.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid welcomed the news on Capitol Hill. “I’m happy with what he’s done,” the Nevada Democrat said.
But New Jersey Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver, a Democrat, knocked the announcement, saying that it was fueled by Mr. Christie’s own political self-interest and not what’s best for the taxpayers who will pay for the special election that could run as high as $24 million.
“I’m very disappointed the governor has chosen to be so transparently political and waste taxpayer money on a special October election,” Ms. Oliver said. “The November general election date is what’s best for taxpayers and voter turnout. It’s unquestionably the best option, but Gov. Christie has chosen to put partisan politics and his self-interest first.”
“The statute provides for the governor of New Jersey to make this decision if the governor deems it advisable to have a special election,” Mr. Christie said. “I deem it advisable to have a special election. In fact, I deem it necessary.”
Roughly five months out from the November election, Mr. Christie holds a 30-point lead over state Sen. Barbara Buono in the state’s gubernatorial race.
Mr. Lautenberg died Monday at the age of 89 of complications from viral pneumonia,. He was the last remaining World War II veteran in the upper chamber. He announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election in 2014.
“I do have a preference for one party over the other,” Mr. Christie told reporters. “So that might color my judgment a little.”
Some political observers have speculated that Mr. Christie will tap Tom Kean Jr., the minority leader of the state Senate and son of a former governor. Mr. Keane captured the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2006, but lost in the general election to Democrat Robert Menendez.
Others have pointed to the elder Mr. Kean as a possible temporary replacement, as well as Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Joe Kyrillos, a Christie ally who lost to Mr. Menendez in 2012.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, both Democrats, are also considering a run.