The special election to fill the now-vacant Senate seat in New Jersey is all about Chris Christie’s political calculus. And for that reason it is the weirdest special election, under the weirdest circumstances, anyone can imagine.
When to hold a special election
Chris Christie made two decisions in calling a special election for October 16, three weeks before a regular general election. First he decided to hold a special election at all. He didn’t have to. Or did he? Geoff Mulvihill and colleagues at the Associated Press think he might have had to. They cite Frank Askin, director, Constitutional Rights Clinic, Rutgers University School of Law. According to Askin, Christie might have decided not to hold any special election, but merely to send an interim Senator to Washington on his own authority. But if he did that, the Democrats might have gone to court to force the State to hold a Senate race this November.
Why would they do that? The primary alone will cost the State $12 million that it wouldn’t otherwise have to spend. The reason: Cory Booker. Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, will without doubt run for the Senate. (According to Jonathan Tamari at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Mayor Booker is holding his peace – for now.) If he were to run for the Senate on the November ballot, he would juice Democratic turnout, and especially black turnout. That would be especially true in his own city of Newark, where people know him best. Those extra voters would vote for Barbara Buono, who will run against Christie for governor.
So Chris Christie pulled a fast one. He scheduled a special election, all right. So no one can complain that he won’t let the people pick a Senator to serve out at least a full session of Congress next year. But now he’s going to hold it three weeks in advance. That means spending another $12 million for an election with just one race. So maybe Cory Booker will get into the Senate, all right. But all his turnout juice will benefit him alone. No coattails. Sorry, Babs.
Clever – and infuriating. Not only to Democrats, but to Republicans, too. Why, why, why won’t Christie even try to send a conservative Republican to go to the Senate and foul up Obama’s plans?
Because Chris Christie is not a conservative Republican. Nick Purpura, associated with Team New Jersey, pointed this out this morning. He reminded CNAV sharply of Chris Christie’s immediate future travel plans: a confab with Mitt Romney, at Sam Bass’ Snowbird resort in Utah. With David Axelrod and Governor John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) among others. What kind of conservative, asks Purpura, goes to a confab with people like these? And how, by the way, did Christie manage to attract Democratic moneybags to support him? (Sal Rizzo of The Star-Ledger tells us who the big-money donors are.) “Follow the money,” says Purpura. Meaning: those big-money Dems (including none other than George “Spooky Dude” Soros, through his hedge fund), did not give to Chris Christie because they had an epiphany when he laid his hands on them. More likely it was the other way around.
That special election brings with it another feature: the tightest deadlines in history for getting into a special election primary. Candidate have until Monday morning at 4 p.m. to get their petitions in. And they must collect a thousand signatures to get onto the ballot. (Chris Baxter and Jarrett Renshaw at The Star-Ledger have the lowdown.)
RoseAnn Salanitri, head of the New Jersey Tea Party Caucus, suggested that maybe Christie made a mistake with those deadlines. With only six days to gather all those signatures, few candidates will have time even to get on the ballot. She suggested to CNAV that maybe Steve Lonegan would be the only man with the “mojo” to pull that off. (Lonegan did not return an e-mail asking for comment, and Americans for Prosperity/New Jersey refused comment.)
Tamari at The Philadelphia Inquirer points out that a lot of Democrats, who would have preferred to keep their powder dry this year, now must scramble to get those signatures. And they had even less time to gather them – for they all attended Frank Lautenberg’s funeral. Bad enough to have to scramble for signatures for a special election primary while Lautenberg’s body is still warm! And that is the spot Chris Christie put them into.
But as Tamari also recognizes, not one Republican has even made a move. Nick Purpura said yesterday Christie betrayed the Republican Party by not simply appointing a Senator and having done with it. Well, maybe that’s truer than Purpura knows. For if the Democrats will have trouble getting signatures in, Republicans might have worse trouble.
Could Barack Obama, in New Jersey last weekend to talk about Hurricane Sandy relief, have discussed that very thing with Christie? Could those big moneybags have said the same? CNAV does not have access to “mosquito drones,” and so can’t say.
Could Christie be trying to get into the Senate himself, and using the special election to get there? No. That would be too obvious. Besides, he wants to be President, not a mere Senator. Except that he risks giving Cory Booker a nifty Senate platform to run for President from. Nick Purpura might think the Democrats would be too gun-shy to support Booker, but stranger things have happened. Besides: Cory Booker is no Barack Obama.
Calling a special election, and holding it three weeks ahead of the regular election so that primary candidates barely have time to qualify, serves one man only: Chris Christie. Not that he wants to enter the Senate. But he wants to be President. So he shepherds a popular Democrat into the Senate, while keeping him out of his way so that he can coast to re-election as Governor. Where he can control the New Jersey delegation to the Republican National Convention, and much else besides.
Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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