(MCT) TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey will vote for a replacement to the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg in October and the political parties will choose their nominees in an August primary, Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday.
“The decisions that need to be made in Washington are too great to be determined by an appointee for a period of 18 months,” Christie said.
Taxpayers will have to spend more than $20 million for the two elections, according to estimates done in 2009 by the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services.
Christie said the state will pay the cost, but he thought it was justified to give the public a voice. He also said he wanted there to be a primary so party leaders did not pick candidates behind closed doors.
“I will not permit the insiders and a few party elites to determine who the nominee of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party will be,” he said. “A primary election is necessary. The people must choose.”
Christie will appoint an interim senator to represent the state until October, but did not divulge a name at a State House news conference.
“I haven’t made my decision about who it will be,” Christie said, admitting that he has a list of candidates in his head.
But he indicated that he would make an announcement soon so that a replacement could represent the state in Washington next week when Congress debates immigration reform.
Christie also said he would not select someone based on whether or not they plan to run in the special election and that Lautenberg’s liberal political views wouldn’t be a factor in his decision.
“The factor is, who is the best person in my mind to represent New Jersey with honesty and forthrightness and diligence over the course of the next 134 days or so between whenever the nomination happens and the October 16 special election,” Christie said.
The winner of the October election will have to run again in 2014 for a full six-year term. Candidates will have about two weeks to collect 1,000 signatures and turn in their petitions to run, Christie said.
Christie’s decision separates the Senate race from his own campaign for re-election in November, but it creates a shortened calendar that will favor candidates who have already built a bankroll.
Among Democrats, Rep. Frank Pallone of Long Branch topped the state on March 31 with $3.7 million in his campaign account, followed by $1.6 million for Newark Mayor Cory Booker and $797,000 for Rep. Rush Holt of Hopewell Township. All three were interested in running in 2014, but have not said what their plans were for this year.
“We’re not making any decisions this soon after the senator’s passing,” said Jackie Cornell-Bechelli, political director for Rush Holt for Congress.
On the Republican side, no one was raising money to run before now. The biggest GOP campaign fund is the $2.2 million held by Rep. Scott Garrett of Wantage, followed by $753,000 held by Rep. Frank LoBiondo of Ventnor, according to the Federal Election Commission.
State law was unclear about what was required, beyond stating that Christie has the authority to call a special election. One part of the law said an election had to be held in November, while another said an appointee could serve until 2014.
Christie said that allowing an appointee to serve until 2014 was an “absolutely defensible legal position, but I don’t think it’s right.” He said he could have waited to make a decision so that the general election was timed to coincide with the November election, but dismissed that as “playing politics.”
Lautenberg died Monday morning. He served more than a quarter century and championed liberal causes.
Lautenberg’s funeral will be held at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City on Wednesday morning, after which his casket will be brought with an honor guard through the Secaucus train station, which was named after him, and loaded onto an Amtrak train for Washington.
On Thursday, fellow senators will escort the casket into the Senate chamber, where it will be placed on the platform, or catafalque, originally used for President Abraham Lincoln. The last World War II veteran to serve in the Senate, Lautenberg will be buried Friday at Arlington National Cemetery.
©2013 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
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