MONTCLAIR, N.J.—Gov. Chris Christie scheduled a special election for Oct. 16 to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died on Monday. The election will be preceded by a primary on Aug. 13.
In a press conference, Christie said he will make a temporary appointment to the post, but he noted he had not yet decided who that will be. He expects to make an announcement by next week.
"This is about guaranteeing the people of New Jersey both a choice and a voice in the process and the representation that they deserve in Washington. Whoever is going to be our next United States senator should be nominated by a primary of the people and voted on by all the people of the state of New Jersey," Christie said. "And that’s why, as is clearly indicated by New Jersey law, I am calling for a special election to be held this year."
The decision is sure to spur questions about Christie’s political motives, given that some people had suggested holding the special election on Nov. 5, Election Day. Holding both elections on that date could have driven up Democratic turnout and possibly hurt Christie’s bid for re-election as he’ll also be on the ballot that day.
At a campaign stop in Montclair, Christie's gubernatorial opponent, Democrat Barbara Buono, accused her rival of playing politics with the scheduling. She criticized his decision to spend money on an extra election, citing Christie's opposition to an early-voting bill that he vetoed last month because he said the estimated $25 million cost would be too expensive.
"And then he turns around a few weeks later, and he requires a special election which we know is going to have a lower turnout ... spending taxpayer money unnecessarily to disenfranchise people," Buono told Yahoo News. "I think it's wrong. I think that's cynical. And, yes, I think it's politically motivated."
At his press conference, Christie denied his decision was driven by politics—and argued the cost of the election was not as important as the state having a new senator as soon as possible "when so many consequential issues are being debated and determined this year."
He insisted, “I am not going to play politics" with this decision.
The GOP governor acknowledged New Jersey election law gave him the ability to appoint someone to fill the post until next year and schedule the ballot in November 2014. But Christie said he did not feel comfortable with that choice, telling reporters, “It was too long a time for someone to have that sole authority.”
“I favor the people selecting who represents them. Not me, the people,” he added. “That is what I intend to do.”