New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will cruise to the GOP nomination Tuesday for governor, but the Republican isn’t winning plaudits on either side of the aisle for his controversial decision to hold an October 2013 special election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
Christie made clear in his announcement he wasn’t concerned with politics behind his choice to hold a costly race that didn’t coincide with his own November re-election just three weeks later.
But Democrats are immediately zeroing in on his comments about the expensive primary and general election, after the Republican said in his Tuesday press conference he didn’t know how much the non-regularly scheduled election would cost the state -- and he didn’t care.
The cost, as estimated by the New Jersey Office of Legislative Services, could be upwards of $24 million, with the primary and general elections each costing nearly $12 million.
“I don’t know what the cost would is, and quite frankly I don’t care,” Christie said. “The cost cannot be measured against the value of having an elected representative in the United States Senate when so many important issues are being debated this year."
Christie is still the heavy favorite for re-election this November against Democrat Barbara Buono, but Democrats now see an opening to criticize the popular Republican, who’s made his tight spending in office a key campaign point, that they didn’t have before.
"Earlier this year, the Governor cited money as to why he vetoed early voting. However, despite costing millions of dollars, Governor Christie made the cynical and arrogant decision to call a special election in October. His choice made it clear that he does not care about wasting taxpayer money,” Buono spokesman David Turner said in a statement. “Moreover, by holding two elections within weeks of each other, the Governor will needlessly disenfranchise voters. He should change his decision and hold the election on November 5."
The Democratic Governors Association also piled on, with Executive Director Colm O’Comartun slamming Christie as ambivalent toward the cost.
"Governor Christie might not know or care how many millions of taxpayer dollars his special election gambit will waste, but the people of New Jersey certainly do,” O’Comartun said. “Christie should do the right thing, protect New Jersey taxpayer dollars instead of his own political career, and hold the Senate election on the same day as his own.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seemed to not get the messaging memo, though, and told reporters he was “happy with” Christie’s decision.
“I have never met Governor Christie," Reid said, "but I have to say that this, what he has done, keeps the people of New Jersey involved in who is going serve them in the Senate. I think that it’s the right thing to do."
The Senate’s top Democrat added, "An election this year, he could have tried to play around with it and done it in 2014; I think, in this regard, he did the right thing."
Senate Republicans didn’t publicly rebuke of Christie’s pick, choosing instead to highlight the Democratic discord that’s likely brewing. But they didn’t issue a ringing endorsement of his timeline, either, with the GOP clearly preferring a November 2014 election.
“Governor Christie has always made decisions based upon what he feels is best for New Jersey,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring. “Democrats will now face an ugly primary sprint between Cory Booker, Frank Pallone, and others -- all with substantial war chests and a healthy dislike for each other. Cory Booker did not want to have to wrap this up in two months against two well-funded Democratic opponents."
Senate Democrats actually sounded the happiest with Christie’s decision, pointing to the state’s blue tilt, and gleefully noting the disdain of their GOP counterparts.
“Republicans have not won a Senate race in New Jersey in more than 40 years. Their only shot was an appointee who had a year and a half to establish themselves before an election in 2014,” the DSCC’s Matt Canter said. “With this news I assume operatives at the NRSC are busy planning Christie’s defeat in Iowa and NH right now.”