Chris Christie calls a special Senate election, ducks a Cory Booker problem

Christie at a press conference. ()
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New Jersey governor Chris Christie announced this afternoon that he will call a special election to replace senator Frank Lautenberg, who died yesterday morning.

"I firmly believe that the decisions that need to be made are too great to be made by an appointee over the next 18 months," said Christie.

Christie issued a writ today for a primary election to take place in 70 days, on August 13, to be followed by a general election on October 16, just two weeks before the regularly scheduled election that includes Christie's name for re-election.

Christie dismissed the idea that he was calling the election, at an estimated cost of $25 million of dollars, to avoid sharing the ballot with a potentially popular Democratic candidate who would reduce what was supposed to be an overwhelming margin for Christie over a largely unknown Democratic challenger in the governor's race. (The Senate candidates would appear on the ballot above the gubernatorial candidates.)

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"I'm not going to play politics with this," Christie said.

Christie argued that without a special election, New Jerseyans would have to wait for the regularly scheduled Senate election in 2014, though the law is unclear as to whether Christie could simply include the Senate candidates alongside him on this year's ballot.

"My judgment is not based on the law, it's based on what's right," he told reporters, saying both statutes give him power to call a special election if he deems it advisable.

"I deem it advisable to have a special election," he said. "In fact, I deem it necessary."

While Christie's decision solves a political dilemma for him, it won't do much for his reputation as a governor primarily concerned with the state's bottom line.

"I don't know what the cost is and I quite frankly don't care," he said when asked about the potential cost to the state, adding, "We're not going to be pennywise and pound foolish around here."

Christie hinted that he'd appoint a Republican to fill the seat in the meantime.

"I do have a preference for one party over the other, so that might color my judgment a little," he said, though he preemptively distanced himself from any appointee by saying he doesn't expect to select someone who is calling him for advice on how to vote, because that's not his job.

Despite his preference for speed, Christie's appointee is likely to be in place for a number of controversial votes, including a vote this month on immigration reform, and possibly, a new round of votes on gun control legislation.

The candidates, which are expected to include Newark mayor Cory Booker and Rep. Frank Pallone, now have two months to wage what promises to be a short and brutal primary contest.

"The gun has been fired," Christie said today. "It's time to go."