To hear the political media tell it, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) made a stinker of a decision Tuesday by setting the state’s special Senate election for Oct. 16 rather than on the same day as the general election either this year or in 2014. But the decision was probably the best of three bad options for Christie. The Star-Ledger editorial board blasted Christie for a “self-serving stunt“, and it was joined in that criticism by several politicians — most of them Democrats. But as is often the case with Senate vacancies — this one created by the death of Democratic Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg — the controversy was probably unavoidable. Giving a governor carte blanche to interpret the law and make an interim appointment these days often ends poorly (see: Blagojevich, Rod; Paterson; David; and Abercrombie, Neil). In addition, New Jersey special election law put Christie in an especially unenviable position because it is highly contradictory and totally open to interpretation.
Essentially there were three options. Republicans would have preferred that Christie wait until November 2014 and allow a Christie appointee (read: a Republican) to serve the next 17 months. Democrats would have preferred that Christie set the election for Nov. 5, 2013 — the same day that Christie faces reelection and state legislative races are held. Their thinking was that putting Senate front-runner and Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) on the ballot might spur Democratic turnout and maybe even give them a chance to upend the highly popular Christie.
Instead, Christie went a third direction, choosing an option that few knew was even on the table until Tuesday afternoon. His decision to set the election for Oct. 16 is hardly a crowd-pleaser — Republicans and Democrats alike will object to the cost of holding an extra election (estimated to cost $12 million) when the general election is less than three weeks later — but it’s probably his best hope to avoid the whole situation blowing up in his face.