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Christie: Oct. election to fill Lautenberg seat

Posted: June 4, 2013 1:30 p.m.
Updated: June 4, 2013 1:30 p.m.
 

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday set an October special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat made vacant by Frank Lautenberg's death, a decision that gets voters the quickest possible say on who will represents them but also preserves Christie as the top attraction on November's ballot.

The move means the state will have two statewide elections less than three weeks apart, a rare occurrence that's already drawing criticism.

At a news conference, Christie didn't answer the big question of whom he'll appoint to the seat in the meantime, but he said he has a list of possibilities in his head and will announce a decision quickly. He also says he's not obligated to nominate someone in line philosophically with the liberal Lautenberg.

The Republican governor's decision could bring criticism for putting more elections on the calendar, which can be expensive. The state Office of Legislative Services says each election costs the state about $12 million. Christie said the state will pick up the tab.

In this case, there would be two — an Aug. 13 primary and the special election on Oct. 16. The general election is Nov. 5.

"The people need to have a voice and choice," he said. In opting for a primary, Christie said he didn't want "insiders and a few party elites to determine who the nominee of the Republican party and the Democratic party will be."

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a Democrat, said Christie chose the October date so that a possible surge of Democratic voter turnout for the Senate election doesn't threaten his re-election bid.

"The November general election date is what's best for taxpayers and voter turnout," Oliver said. "It's unquestionably the best option, but Gov. Christie has chosen to put partisan politics and his self-interest first."

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat, announced months ago that he was planning to seek the Senate seat. U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone has also expressed interest.

Lautenberg, who turned 89 in January and was the oldest member of the Senate, at first bristled at Booker's candidacy. But the Democratic lawmaker, who was first elected to the Senate in 1982, announced in February that he would not seek re-election next year and would retire when his term expired at the beginning of 2015.

Lautenberg died after suffering complications from pneumonia. A funeral is scheduled for Wednesday.

Tuesday is New Jersey's gubernatorial and legislative primary day. There's not much intrigue expected in the elections.

But there was deep intrigue and speculation over who will fill the Senate seat in the short-term and when the election might be, and how Christie would navigate a difficult course. If he names a Republican to the seat, it would certainly upset Democrats who say the seat belongs to their party. If he chooses a Democrat, it could upset members of the governor's own party as he considers whether to run for president in 2016.

New Jersey has not elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972. The last Republican to serve in the Senate was Nicholas Brady, who was appointed in 1982 to finish the term of Democrat Harrison Williams, who resigned amid scandal in the last year of his term. Lautenberg won the seat later that year and remained in the Senate until his death, except for a brief retirement in 2001 and 2002.

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