New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday he wants the people of his state to determine who should replace Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat who died Monday, and is scheduling primaries in August and a special election in October.
Christie, a Republican up for re-election this year and a potential 2016 presidential candidate, had wide latitude in determining how to fill the seat. He will select someone to occupy Lautenberg's spot ahead of the Oct. 16 election, but declined to have his selection hold the seat until the regularly scheduled 2014 election as he could have.
"I believe the people have the right to make that decision; the right thing is to let the people decide," Christie said during a news conference.
The October special election will be a mere month before the general election which will feature his own name on the ballot,a move that could cost the state tens of millions of dollars.
But Christie said as soon as he determined this was the path he wanted to go he couldn't hold off announcing the decision in good conscience and that the state would cover the associated costs. New Jersey law states the special elections, primary and general, need to be held within a certain number of days preventing Christie from scheduling the fall elections to coincide.
"We're not going to be penny-wise and pound-foolish here," Christie said, adding the Senate is expected to take up a number of important issues, such as immigration reform and budget matters, and that New Jersey deserved to have a full delegation elected by the people as soon as possible.
Democrats had hoped Christie would choose to avoid the added costs by combining the elections because likely Democratic nominee Newark Mayor Cory Booker would likely turn out a record number of African American voters and buoy the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Barbara Buono. She currently trails Christie in polls by double-digits.
When asked about who he would appoint to the seat in the meantime, Christie was coy.
"I do have a preference for one party over the other, so that might color my judgment a little," he said in reply to a question about whether or not he would pick a Republican or a Democrat.
But he indicated the decision would come soon.
"I do have a list in my head. You know me, I don't dawdle," he said.
Political observers have said Christie was in a bind once Lautenberg passed, because if he nominated a conservative that would appeal to national Republican primary voters to bolster his presidential profile he would anger the blue state voters he needs to win re-election. But by deferring the decision to voters, Christie will likely avoid criticism from both sides.