Founded by Drew Pearson 1932
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – The opportunity to replace a U.S. senator of the opposite party with a partisan of your own choosing doesn’t happen that often, and when it does, it can be fraught with danger, as New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie is learning. To his credit, Christie didn’t spend a lot of time agonizing. He decided within days of the death of Democrat Frank Lautenberg to hold a special election in October to fill out the year and a half that remains in Lautenberg’s term, with a primary set for mid-August. Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Chiesa, R-N.J., who promised not to run in the special election, will serve until October.
Christi is a man of action, not reflection, and the consensus among the political class is the action he took is politically astute and economically ridiculous. The October special election is just three weeks before the November election where Christie is running for reelection. It is politically astute because he avoids being on the same ballot with a popular Democratic senatorial candidate, likely Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who will boost Democratic turnout and cut into Christie’s voter margin.
Most observers think Christie has a lock on the governor’s race, but wants to run up his vote totals to burnish his credentials as a successful blue state Republican in the 2016 Republican primaries. The problem is that anyone with the hue of blue tends not to impress GOP activists who vote in the primaries. Just ask Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York who dazzled the country with his leadership after the 9/11 attacks. He seemed a natural for the presidency in 2008, a pro-choice moderate with national appeal, but he fizzled during the primaries, unable to connect with the GOP base.
Christie potentially faces the same dilemma. The Republican base is furious that he didn’t take the opportunity when he had it to send one of theirs to the U.S. Senate, someone who would be a reliably conservative vote for the next year and a half. Christie didn’t want to choose between a moderate who would be more representative of New Jersey voters and a conservative who would join forces with Tea Party Senators Ted Cruz, R-Tex., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., to torpedo President Obama’s agenda.
So he dodged the issue with his call for a special election this fall. But it is ridiculous from an economic standpoint for New Jersey taxpayers to foot the bill for an election that could have been folded into this November’s election or held as planned, if Lautenberg had lived, in November 2014. The Tea Party is motivated by big government and out of control deficits, so the cost of the election does not sit well with them. It probably doesn’t help that Christie waved away criticism, declaring he didn’t care about the cost, that it was important to get a voice for New Jersey into the Senate as soon as possible.
Christie is a hero at home in New Jersey and to lots of folks of moderate political stripe across the nation, but it’s hard to see his path to the presidential nomination in the Republican Party. He’s likely to discover, just as Giuliani did, that Republican primary voters are not interested in moderates. They demand red meat rhetoric. When House Republicans were slow to approve federal aid after Hurricane Sandy, Christie let them have it, wondering aloud why anyone in the Northeast would vote Republican. Some Republicans even blame Christie’s photo-ops with President Obama touring storm-ravaged New Jersey for costing Mitt Romney the election.
Meanwhile, the famously candid governor brushes off criticism and insists he’s only doing what’s best for his state. How it affects his political future is a gamble he’s willing to take.
© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND