New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) announced today he’ll select a replacement for deceased Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) and then schedule the primary for August and the election for October 16, 2013. Republican operatives aiming for a Nov. 2014 special election (to bolster the GOP appointee and drive turnout) was not a realistic option for Christie. As he put it today, that’s just “too long” and would smack of old-style New Jersey power politics (keep your guy in there as long as possible).

Gov. Chris Christie (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Christie says he has a list of candidates in his head. Frontrunners include Republican Reps. Frank A. LoBiondo, Chris Smith, Rodney P. Frelinghuysen and Leonard J. Lance; Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, and state senator Joseph M. Kyrillos Jr. Perhaps the favorites are former Gov. Tom Kean or his son and state senator Thomas H. Kean Jr.

The right will be in a snit about his comment that the cost of the special election doesn’t matter since the cost “cannot be measured against the value of having an elected representative in the United States Senate when so many consequential issues are being debated and determined this year.” The left will jeer that Christie helps GOP state legislative candidates this November by keeping a Senate race (likely to include African American mayor Cory Booker) and the base voters the Dem will draw out of the mix.

But all of these voices miss the point. Christie has a single theory about his future: Win big in his gubernatorial race. It’s an impressive win in a blue state that will be his calling card if he decides to run in 2016. A smattering of Twitter griping makes no difference to his overall vision.

Christie got to Trenton by posing as a practical, mainstream Republican. He has succeeded with a combination of hard-nosed conservative policies and pragmatic negotiations with Democrats in the state legislature. That has made him popular in the state with voters of both parties. If and when he pivots to a presidential run, he’ll advertise how conservative his record was (no tax hikes, criminal law reform, entitlement reform). There are other ways to set things in motion, but his approach is coherent and sensible.