New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday called a special election for October to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a decision seen as critical to the balance of power in the U.S. Congress and to Christie’s own political aspirations.
Lautenberg, a liberal Democratic voice in the U.S. Senate since 1982, died on Monday at age 89 of complications from viral pneumonia.
Any move by Christie on how to handle the empty seat was coming under close scrutiny, as the outspoken New Jersey Republican is widely seen as interested in running for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016.
Christie could have chosen to fill the seat through 2014, when Lautenberg’s term was set to expire, most likely with a fellow Republican.
Instead he said a special election will be held on Oct. 16, preceded by a primary election on Aug. 13 to pick the Republican and Democratic nominees.
Like Christie, a blunt-talking politician who at times has alienated his own party as much as his Democratic opponents, the decision might leave both sides less than pleased.
Some Democrats might have liked to see Christie hold the special election on the same day as the Nov. 5 general election, when Christie is up for reelection, as that might lure more Democrats to the polls. Many Republican could have preferred he fill the seat with a Republican through 2014.
“I’m not going to play politics with this,” Christie, who is seeking re-election as governor this November, told a news conference at his office in Trenton, N.J. “I want to have an elected senator as soon as possible.”
Christie said he would pick someone within the week to fill the vacant seat until the Oct. 16 special election.
The state of New Jersey will bear the cost of the primary and special election, Christie said.
Opponents promptly took issue with his decision to hold the special election just three weeks ahead of the general election.
Political observers have said Christie might want to avoid having the special election on the day of the general election to avoid a high Democratic turnout.