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Christie Under Fire From Both Parties After Special Election Announcement

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie outlines plans for a special election to be held to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat of the late Democratic Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg.
The Morning Line

By calling for a special election to fill the Senate seat left vacant by Sen. Frank Lautenberg to be held three weeks before his own re-election bid in November, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has opened himself up to charges of political maneuvering from both the left and the right.

Democrats blasted Christie’s decision for the estimated $25 million added cost of holding a special primary (set for Aug. 13) and a special election (Oct. 16), while also suggesting the move could affect voter turnout. A high-profile Senate race featuring a Democratic candidate, such as Newark Mayor Cory Booker, could have bolstered the prospects of Christie’s opponent in the gubernatorial contest, Barbara Buono.

Republicans, meanwhile, would have preferred for Christie to install a GOP senator until November 2014, providing the party an extra vote in the chamber for the next year and a-half, while also giving the appointee ample time to develop a profile in advance of next year’s midterm election.

Christie dismissed that idea during a statehouse news conference in Trenton, Tuesday afternoon. “Holding this election in November 2014 is an absolutely defensible legal position, but I don’t think it’s right,” Christie said.

The Republican governor said his determination was not driven by politics, but rather by his desire to have voters in the Garden State select a new senator as soon as possible.

“The issues facing the U.S. Senate are too critically important, the decisions that need to be dealt with too vital, not to have an elected representative making those decisions who was voted on and decided on by the people of this state,” Christie said.

The New York Times’ Kate Zernike and David Halbfinger highlight the Democratic response to Christie’s move:

Democrats immediately accused him of squandering taxpayer money to protect his own political ambitions at a time when the state budget is under severe stress, and some promised to challenge the decision in court.

Party leaders sent around a list of the kind of budget cuts that Mr. Christie could restore with the money to be spent on the special election: $10 million he cut from after-school programs for children in the state’s most troubled cities, $8.6 million in tuition subsidies for college students and $12 million in charity care at hospitals. Just weeks ago, they noted, he vetoed a proposal to establish early voting, saying the price — $25 million — was too high.

Christie brushed aside such criticism Tuesday. “I don’t know what the cost is and I quite frankly don’t care,” he said. “All of the people of the state of New Jersey will benefit from it.”

The National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar provides a sampling of the reaction to Christie’s announcement from Republicans:

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.

While Christie’s decision might cause some immediate political discomfort, particularly among partisans, a landslide election victory in November could do a lot to alleviate that pain, and keep him on the front burner as 2016 talks begin to heat up.

According to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Christie enjoys broad support across the political spectrum, with 40 percent of Republicans, 41 percent of independents and 43 percent of Democrats viewing him in a favorable light.

A Quinnipiac University survey released in late April showed Christie with a 58 percent to 26 percent lead over Buono, and put the governor’s overall approval rating at 67 percent.

It’s tough to imagine the backlash to Tuesday’s decision would be enough to erode that advantage, but if it results in a closer than expected victory in November, that could potentially dimnish his standing heading into 2016.

For now, though, the focus will remain on Christie’s next move, which is the naming of an interim senator to fill the seat until October. The governor said Tuesday he would make a decision on that front within days, and that he had not set any “preconditions” in making a choice, either in terms of party affiliation or interest in running for the seat full-time.


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Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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