Chris Christie. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)
The last time that New Jersey voters elected a Republican to the United States Senate, Richard Nixon topped the party ticket and the winning Senate candidate was Clifford Case, a proudly liberal Republican who opposed the war in Vietnam, embraced civil rights and environmental protection and frequently ran with the backing of the AFL-CIO.
Since 1972, thirteen Republicans have been nominated in thirteen elections for Senate seats—four of which had no incumbent on the November ballot—and thirteen Republicans have been defeated.
In recognition of that reality, a typically cynical Republican governor might have taken advantage of the state’s confusing and contradictory statutes to appoint a Republican successor to Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg, who died Monday. An appointed senator could have served through the end of 2014. With Senate deliberations so shaped by arcane rules, partisan divisions and ideological positioning, an appointed rather than elected senator would have provided a boost to the Senate Republican Caucus at a potentially definitional stage in Barack Obama’s second term.
But Chris Christie is not a typically cynical Republican governor.
Chris Christie is a supremely cynical Republican governor.
How cynical? Try this:
Christie has chosen to schedule the special election to fill Lautenberg’s seat on October 16—twenty days before the regularly scheduled state election. And he’s still going to send an unelected Republican-selected senator to Washington during a critical stage in congressional deliberations.
The governor wants New Jersey, and America, to think that his scheduling of the special election is a nobly nonpartisan gesture. There is, after all, a very real prospect that come October another Democrat—perhaps Newark Mayor Cory Booker, perhaps Congressman Frank Pallone, perhaps someone else—will win another New Jersey Senate election. “I’ve decided on a special election because I firmly believe we must allow the citizens of this state to have their say,” he piously announced on Tuesday.
But don’t confuse Christie with a small “d” democrat.
He’s twisting the process to his own advantage.
The governor could have scheduled the special election on a timeline that paralleled New Jersey’s November 5 election—in which polls peg Christie as a favorite to be re-elected. That would have saved taxpayers at least $24 million dollars and a lot of confusion. Instead, notes New Jersey Working Families Alliance executive director Bill Holland, Christie has chosen to hold two general elections in a one-month period—an approach that is all but certain to confuse the electorate and suppress turnout.