New Jersey's newest senator says he's a 'conservative Republican'
June 6th, 2013
02:51 PM ET
9 years ago

New Jersey's newest senator says he's a 'conservative Republican'

(CNN) - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appointed his state's attorney general to temporarily fill the U.S Senate seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

The GOP governor, who made the announcement Thursday at a news conference at the state capitol in Trenton, introduced Jeffrey Chiesa, a fellow Republican, as his choice to temporarily succeed Lautenberg, the longtime Democratic senator who died Monday at age 89.

Christie also announced that Chiesa will not run in this year's special election to fill Lautenberg's seat.

Christie's decision changes the balance of power in the Senate, with the Democratic party's 55-45 majority (53 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the party) over the Republicans slipping to 54-46.

Christie praised Chiesa, who he's known for two decades.

"I said on Monday I was going to select the person I thought was going to be the best person to represent New Jersey between now and October 13," Christie told reporters. "During the last few days as I've gotten to deliberate on this decision, it became clear to me that Attorney General Chiesa would be the best person to represent the people of New Jersey in the United States Senate."

"I've appointed someone that I have great faith and confidence in and somebody I know almost as well as my own family," added Christie.

Chiesa served as executive director of Christie's transition then and then chief counsel to the governor from January 2010 through December 2011, when Christie nominated him to be attorney general. He heads to Washington on Monday.

Chiesa, who described himself as "a conservative Republican," said he'll have to learn quickly about the issues that he'll be voting on in the Senate over the next four months.

With the primary election just two months away, the first candidate in the race to succeed Lautenberg jumped into the race earlier Thursday.

The move by Democratic Rep. Rush Holt comes as a Democratic state senator in New Jersey vowed to introduce a bill that would move the date of the Garden State's November gubernatorial and legislative elections to the same day in October that Christie announced he would hold the general election in the special Senate contest.

Holt, a Democrat who's in his eighth term representing New Jersey's 12th Congressional District, said Thursday morning in a statement that, "I ask for your support as I seek to serve as your Senator in that seat. The reason is simple: I believe I am the best candidate to continue the passionate advocacy for progressive values that Sen. Lautenberg exemplified."

Although he has yet to make a formal announcement, Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker is collecting signatures to run in the special election. Spokesman Kevin Griffis confirmed the news to CNN, adding that "our volunteers are collecting signatures," which he said was consistent with the necessary steps they've been taking the past several months to prepare a candidacy. Candidates hoping to run in the race must hand in 1,000 signatures by 4 p.m. ET on Monday afternoon.

Booker, considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, earlier this year announced he was exploring a run for Senate in 2014. He made the news before Lautenberg, whose term was up in 2014, announced he would not run for re-election.

Rep. Frank Pallone, who's also considered likely to make a bid, has not made any announcements this week. A Democratic source with knowledge of Pallone's thinking tells CNN "an announcement will be forthcoming" but added that it would come after the late senator's funeral process is over, "out of respect to Lautenberg, who was a close friend to the congressman."

Pallone has the biggest war chest of the three men, with approximately $3 million cash on hand. Booker, who is seen as the favorite in the Democratic nomination battle, and who has the potential to raise a large sum of money thanks to his star power and national connections, currently has a smaller war chest than Pallone, with Holt having around $700,000 in the bank right now.

On the GOP side, former Bogota, New Jersey, Mayor Steve Lonegan says he'll run. Other possible candidates include Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, Rep. Jon Runyan, and biotech executive John Crowley. State senators Joe Kyrillos and Tom Kean Jr., who've both run for U.S. Senate in the past, seem to be leaning against making another bid this time around. Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnic has said he won't run.

Tuesday Christie announced that the Democratic and Republican primaries will be held on August 13, with the general election coming on October 16. The winner would serve the final 14-and-a-half months of Lautenberg's term. An election to a full six-year term will be held in November 2014.

Christie's announcement to hold the special Senate election in October was instantly slammed by both national and state Democrats. They argued that the move was a political ploy by Christie, who is up for re-election this November. Legislative elections are also being held in November. If the special Senate election were held on the same day it would most likely increase Democratic turnout in what's considered a blue state, especially if Booker is on the ballot.

By placing the special Senate election in October, Christie avoids Democratic turnout tied to this issue possibly becoming a problem for him.

But Democrats attacked him because of the cost of holding the special Senate election in October rather than waiting a few weeks till the already scheduled general election, saying Christie's wasting taxpayer dollars.

The New Jersey Office of Legislative Services estimates it will cost $12 million to state taxpayers to conduct such a general election.

Christie said Tuesday that state law only permits the option of an October special election or an election in 2014. And he added that "there's no political purpose" behind his decision on the election date.

"A $12 million cost, while not insubstantial, I don't think in the context of a $32 billion budget is something that should dissuade us from giving people an opportunity to get an elected United States senator down there as quickly as we can," added Christie Thursday.

A Democratic state senator, stating that "we've got to start thinking outside the box," says she'll introduce a bill as early as Thursday which would move the November general election to October 16, saving the taxpayers millions of dollars.

"This is at a time when we don't have money to waste" Sen. Shirley Turner told CNN, adding that she came up with the idea Wednesday.

Turner says the fellow Democratic lawmakers she's talked to are supportive of her move. She hopes to pass the bill through committee next week, with a vote by both houses of the legislature, which are controlled by the Democrats, before the current legislative session ends later in June.

A political adviser close to the governor, who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely, told CNN that "we aren't surprised she (Turner) would introduce legislation solely for partisan gain."

Filed under: New Jersey • Senate
soundoff (87 Responses)
  1. ToldUSo

    Who cares, the Senate gets nothing done anyway with their BS system.

    June 6, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  2. Ken in MO

    You cannot say that you love Christie and hate the GOP. They are one and the same! Like now...because he is a Republican you now have a "conservative" Republican Senator. NJ choice of Christie has consequences. I dont have an issue with Christie but you can't love one and complain about the makes no sense.

    June 6, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  3. Wake up People!

    Exactly. I love that analogy and I use it all of the time. It is so fitting HERE.

    June 6, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  4. lgwelsh1

    I like Christie, he is doing the right thing for his state. He has been s stand up guy since he took office.I think he is tired like the rest of the American public with all the political crap. So what if he put in a Republican for the nest 6 months, big deal. He felt it was the right person for the job. He has done a lot for his state and the fact he is having a special election where someone not from his party can win the seat is great.

    June 6, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  5. Rudy NYC

    June 6, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |


    ""A $12 million cost, while not insubstantial, I don't think in the context of a $32 billion budget is something that should dissuade us from giving people an opportunity to get an elected United States senator down there as quickly as we can," added Christie Thursday."

    And yet we have to listen to GOPers/teatrolls rail about $1M for something or other they don't like being a HUUUUUUUGE deal in the context of the entire federal budget. Yawn. Just more 'conservative" hypocrisy.

    Christie is ignoring his own state law that directs officials to avoid holding elections so close together like this, which was signed into law for the purpose of saving money. Every dollar counts.

    June 6, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  6. Solitairedog

    Gov. Christie has thwarted the will of the people once again. Shame on him.

    June 6, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  7. Joe P

    Big surprise...he bent over for the GOP.

    June 6, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  8. Dave

    korkea aika – Jon Huntsman seems a decent man. But there are far too few in the GOP!

    June 6, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  9. innersixx

    Why is he holding a special election 3 weeks before the general election? Will 3 weeks really make a difference?

    June 6, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  10. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    Bad move Christie! Although we ALL know Corey Booker will be the next senator, this is a long held democrat seat. Putting a conservative in that seat is not looking out for the best interest of your state. It's real obvious now that you're trying to serve to masters. It doesn't work that way. Republicans are going to crucify you for doing the unfiscally responsible thing to do regarding the special election and democrats are going to crucify you for putting a republican in a democrat seat. You lose either way.

    June 6, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  11. foxsmart

    ok, for all of christie-lovers in the other 49 states...he has NOT fixed our economy in stinks...super high taxes, crumbling infrastructure, high unemployment at 9.8%, #47 in GDP, highest home foreclosures in nation...then about those social issues...anti-choice, vetoed marriage equality & minimum wage, fired public workers...then there is millionaire's tax break, the swamp mall and atlantic city hotel give back...never voted for him, never will

    June 6, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  12. Ken

    I am amazed at how many people on this site expected Christie to appoint a democrat. Really? However, I am NOT shocked that democrats ARE shocked.

    June 6, 2013 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  13. talleyrand

    What did you dems think he was going to do? You all elected a republican governor, knowing the governor has this power. Now you bellyache because he does exactly what you knew or should have known he would do when you elected him. Time to stop whining.

    June 6, 2013 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  14. just sayin

    wow... looks like the far left democrat lovefest with christie is over... i guess they really did think he was a democrat the way he hugged obama! hahahahahaha... christie should be readin gand learning from these comments. democrats will never vote for him so he should have appointed this guy until 2014.

    June 6, 2013 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  15. RichardSRussell

    So WHY did Christie order a multi-million-dolar special election, when there was a regular election coming up just 3 weeks later? This seems like a pretty dunderheaded move for a supposed fiscal conservative.

    June 6, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  16. Pandamonius

    I like Christie, and think he's making the right decision having a special election for this. That being said, replacing a democrat with a republican is nothing more than a cheap political ploy that lessens the voice of the NJ voters. Unless this conservative republican who's now in the seat plans to vote the same way Lautenberg would on every issue, this was just wrong.

    My respect for Christie was because he refused to give in to his party and play by their dirty rulebook. Looks like the heat got a little too much for him, so he did this to appease them. Kinda sad...just when I thought that there was still at least one decent republican, he proves me wrong.

    Oh well, at least the Dems will have an easy time replacing him in November. All they need to do is make this one of the main talking points.

    June 6, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  17. Rudy NYC


    Korkea – I am 100% with you. As a independent (left leaning) I would vote for Christie based upon everything I've seen. The problem is that the rest of the republicans behind him seem to be absolutely the same crazy folks we've been seeing the last couple of years.
    I've got bad news for you. Birds of a feather, stick together. Christie cut taxes for the wealthy and business. He paid for it with Stimulus money. When that ran out he paid for it by raising property taxes, which hits the middle class the hardest.

    June 6, 2013 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  18. Jinx9to88

    @ Alan S – if the people of NJ wanted a Republican they would have voted for one in the last election not the democrat that died a few days ago.

    June 6, 2013 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  19. just sayin

    all you lefties complaining about the cost would have really screamed if christie saved a lot of money and appointed a replacement until 2014. he was stupid for not doing that. the democrats have attacked him no matter what he does so he might as well have gotten some advantage for the republicans in the process. democrats wouldn't have even thought twice about doing it.

    June 6, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  20. Joan from N.J.

    Squandering $12M for his own political purposes. I really thought more of him. I'm so disappointed.

    June 6, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  21. Liberal Sense (Or lack thereof)

    Democrats don't even know what middle ground is.

    They've had Far left Obama for too long already.

    June 6, 2013 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  22. blakenaustin

    Everything Christie says and does says RINO. It is time for you to leave the GOP and join the Democrats, with whom you have far more in common.

    June 6, 2013 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  23. Edwin

    This makes sense. If Christie has any presidential aspirations, he needs to win the GOP nomination. That nomination is utterly controlled by conservatives. But to win the actual election, he needs cross-over democrats. He has some of those (see comments on this forum for examples) because he has a reputation for putting New Jersey ahead of political parties.

    It is very hard to appease the "Country First" democrats and the "Party First" republicans at the same time. His solution - to appoint a conservative who he has personally worked with, but only for five months, no more - might do it. Conservatives will still dislike him, but they might not squash his chances outright, and democrats can still note that he is holding a replacement election very soon.

    Of course the party leadership of both parties is p*ssed off - the GOP thinks he snubs his nose at them (they are correct), and the democrats think he has a chance to win in 2016 or 2020 (they are also right)... but most Americans on both sides of the aisle are moderately okay with how he handled this issue. That says a lot.

    June 6, 2013 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  24. asfdffff

    I take back my distrust of Christie, as long he doesn't support gun control, ever.

    June 6, 2013 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  25. Scott

    "But Democrats attacked him because of the cost of holding the special Senate will cost $12 million to state taxpayers."

    Is it me, or does this mark the first time any Democrat in NJ was concerned about spending $12M on anything?

    June 6, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
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