Christie to shed light on filling vacant Senate seat
June 4th, 2013
12:17 PM ET
11 months ago

Christie to shed light on filling vacant Senate seat

(CNN) - It may be one of the most highly watched news conferences held in Trenton, New Jersey in a long time.

With the national political spotlight firmly focused on Chris Christie as he mulls whom he'll name to replace his state's longtime Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died Monday at age 89, the Garden State's Republican governor Tuesday morning announced he'd go before cameras and reporters in the afternoon.

Three sources close to the governor tell CNN that Christie "will lay out the process for the selection of a new senator."

As Christie runs this year for what is expected to be a relatively easy re-election, he now invites unwanted attention as he decides on a temporary replacement for Lautenberg, a Democrat.

If he doesn't name a conservative, that could complicate his already strained relationship with national conservatives, which could spell trouble if Christie decides to run for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. Many on the right are still upset with Christie's praise of President Barack Obama personally and the federal response in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, just days before last November's presidential election.

While Christie's approval rating in New Jersey soared after Sandy and has remained high, some commentators in his own party blasted him for his praise of Obama, saying it contributed to the defeat of GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

But naming a conservative or partisan to the Senate seat could hurt Christie with the independent and Democrats he needs to win re-election this November in a blue state.

The other quandary for Christie is when to hold an election to allow New Jersey voters to fill the seat. Two conflicting New Jersey state laws over when to hold a special election to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat adds additional complexity.

One statue states that "if a vacancy shall happen in the representation of this State in the United States Senate, it shall be filled at the general election next succeeding the happening thereof, unless such vacancy shall happen within 70 days next preceding such election."

The next general election in the Garden State is this November, when Christie is up for re-election. Since Lautenberg's death is not within 70 days of that election, a special election to fill the final year of Lautenberg's term could be held this November.

But another state statue states that if the vacancy happens within 70 days of the primary that precedes the next general election, the special election will be held at the second succeeding election.

The primary for this November's contests is Tuesday. Since Lautenberg's death is well within that window, under this provision an election would not be held until November 2014, with the winner serving a full six-year term.

Both statues agree that the governor is authorized to set the date for such an election.

There are some obvious political advantages for Christie to put the election off until 2014.

Polls show that Christie has a 2-1 advantage right now over Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono. But a Republican strategist from New Jersey tells CNN that a special Senate election this November could increase Democratic turnout, especially if Newark Mayor Cory Booker is on the ballot. Booker is considering his own run for Senate in 2014.

Even with a very large lead over Buono, why would a GOP governor running for re-election in a blue state want to invite higher Democratic turnout this year?

Sources close to the governor say Christie has made no decisions because it's so early in the process. But one of the sources tells CNN that another option is for a special election to be held this October. While that would benefit Christie by not having a Senate contest on the ballot the same day Christie runs for re-election, it's a much more expensive option, as Garden State taxpayers would have to foot the bill to pay the extra election. And that's troublesome for a governor who touts his fiscal conservative credentials.

If Christie decides to hold the Senate contest in 2014 with a hand-picked replacement serving 18 months by Election Day, it could invite legal action from New Jersey Democrats.

State party Chairman John Wisniewski tells CNN that "it's a slap in the face to New Jersey voters not to have a say in who represents them for a year and a half."

Wisniewski says New Jersey Democrats expect the election to be this November, pointing to what he says is the most recent statue by state lawmakers on the timing of such a vote.

The Democrats currently have a 55 (53 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the party) – 45 majority in the Senate. If Christie names a Republican to replace Lautenberg, the Democrat's majority would slip to 54-46.

CNN's Peter Hamby and Robert Yoon contributed to this report


Filed under: Chris Christie • New Jersey
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Rudy NYC

    Now the national spotlight gets to see the real Chris Christie. Show your love, Chris. Media honeymoon's over.

    June 4, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  2. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    If he wants to hold on to the governorship, he better select Corey Booker. This selection will affect his reelection campaign and his 2016 ambitions.

    June 4, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  3. The Elephant in the Room

    Christie professes to be a no nonsense, effecient & effective government manager.

    There is no justification for spending [WASTING] $30 MILLION of NJ Taxpayer money to hold a seperate "special` election that is on a different day than the regularly scheduled election that is coming this November. If he advocates for anything other than this; crucify him. Wouldn`t a true "conservative" go into convulsions if a Democrat wasted $30M to serve his own selfish interests?

    Name an interim successor Christie and hold the Senatorial election at the same time people vote for/ against your re-election. That course of action is MOST consistent with NJ law governing special elections.

    June 4, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  4. California Gary

    He needs to be careful with this pick.......it probably won't impact his re-election bid at all.......but it could have a major impact on whether he makes it through the 2016 GOP primaries or not. Choose wisely grasshopper.......

    June 4, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  5. Rudy NYC

    The Elephant in the Room wrote:

    ... There is no justification for spending [WASTING] $30 MILLION of NJ Taxpayer money to hold a seperate "special` election that is on a different day than the regularly scheduled election that is coming this November. If he advocates for anything other than this; crucify him. Wouldn`t a true "conservative" go into convulsions if a Democrat wasted $30M to serve his own selfish interests? ....
    ---------------------
    The problem is that under NJ law the election would occur in October. They would have to modify the law in some fashion in order to conduct concurrent elections.

    It would likely be in Christies best re-election interests to follow the law and conduct the eleciton in October, so that the turnout for a November election would have a smaller Democratic demographic...in theory. It would be in Christie's best conservative interests to save some money, but that would make him look like another conservative bending the rules to suit their needs.

    June 4, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  6. Wake up People!

    So will Christy beg forgiveness from his party leaders by choosing a republikkkan or will he do the right thing and choose a democrat??

    If he does do the right thing, he might as well burn his GOP card, because that will be the last straw.....

    Enquiring minds want to know....

    June 4, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  7. jimkon

    Christie killed NJ to NYC tunnel that was 50% funded by Feds on a false premise (that was later refuted) that the estimated price tag was too low and that NJ would have to pay more. The tunnel was supposed to help a lot with the horrible daily congestion between NJ and NY but Christie decided to sacrifice the needs of NJ people (many of whom work in NYC) to acquire political score points as a "budget hawk". Also, thousands of long-term jobs in both NJ and NY would've been created.
    He's a political hack just like many before him.

    June 4, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  8. just sayin

    whatever he does, he needs to appoint a republican until the 2014 election. maybe jesse jackson jr. will offer him a lot of money for the seat?! hahahahaha....

    June 4, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    "Can I just appoint two people please so I don't have to choose between appeasing the Teatrolls or doing the right thing?"

    June 4, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  10. Liberal Sense (Or lack thereof)

    Go democrat and jsut put the "D" in front of your name Christie.

    June 4, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  11. Al-NY,NY

    the no nonsense BBQ Gov either alienates NJ (and other) democrats by placing a GOP'er in there and hurts his appeal to win his state in 2016 OR he alienates the zealots in his party (like he already has with his working with Obama) by naming a democrat. Like Rudy said above....what's it gonna be Chris? You claim to be bipartisan so show it

    June 4, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  12. Sargon

    Love all this talk about "statues," CNN. I didn't know inanimate sculptures wielded so much power! #proofreading

    June 4, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    statue or statute??

    June 4, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  14. leah

    One of Christie's biggest supporters & donors is George Soros. Christie has no future in the Republican party. His only choice -- IF he wants upward mobility is to go to the left (either as an Independent or a moderate Dem). Too much in his past though to make upward mobility a solid proposition however. He is not national candidate material.

    Personally, I think he wants to stay exactly right where he is...and that appears to be fine with NJ. So, just a hiccup in his career path, nothing more than that really.

    June 4, 2013 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  15. GI Joe

    If he has $25 million to spend on an election 1 month prior to a regularly scheduled election, I guess he doesn't need any more help with Hurricane Sandy. Or maybe that's where he's getting the $25 million. You folks in NJ need to watch him – he's sneaky.

    June 4, 2013 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |