The Washington Post

Winners and losers from Chris Christie’s special election decision

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's decision to set a special election to fill late Sen. Frank Lautenberg's seat for October 16 (with a primary on Aug. 13) carries important implications for several prominent Democrats and Republicans. Some are good, some are bad. And that goodness (or badness) doesn't cut clearly along party lines.

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

To help unpack what it all means, we've compiled a winners and losers list below. Agree or disagree with our choices? The comments section is open for business!


Chris Christie: Christie's decision means he won't have to face the threat of sharing the November ballot with a prominent Democratic Senate candidate, like say, Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, who has been actively exploring a bid. If the special election had been set for Nov. 5, as New Jersey Democrats had been lobbying for, the potential presence of Booker on the ballot would have been a boon to Christie's Democratic gubernatorial opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono. Buono is losing badly now, but with a well-known Senate candidate ginning up the Democratic base ahead of Election Day, her fortunes could have turned.

Christie is taking some incoming from Democrats for the cost of a separate election just weeks before the regularly scheduled election. But, by setting the contest for 2013, he dodges a potentially more damaging critique that he strong-armed the process by appointing a Republican to serve until 2014 and giving that candidate time to build a base of support and a Senate record before having to ever face voters.

Senate Democrats: Senate Democrats have to be relieved that Christie didn't appoint a Republican to serve until a 2014 election -- something seen as a possibility leading up to Tuesday given how murky state election laws are. Now, they don't have to worry about a Republican building a year and a half worth of name recognition, a Senate voting record and a fundraising base. Nor do they have to worry about a Republican being carried by the popular Christie on the Nov. 5 ballot. They do, however, have to worry about a primary (more on that below) but given that a Republican hasn't won a Senate race in the Garden State in decades, Democrats can probably survive even some heated intra-party competition.

The Keans: The Kean family is back in the spotlight this week. Tom Kean Sr., the former governor, is a real possibility to win the interim Senate appointment, especially since Christie has left the door open to tapping someone with no interest in running for a full term. (Christie has also said he is open to nominating someone who does want to run.) Kean's son, state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. could also be in the mix. Even if the the younger Kean, who was the 2006 Senate nominee, doesn't get the appointment, he could run for the GOP nomination in the special election -- especially if the appointed senator ends up being a placeholder.


Cory Booker: Booker has been gearing up for a Senate bid for months. He launched an exploratory committee this year and has been working behind the scenes to lay the groundwork ahead of 2014. But now, faced with a 2013 primary, Booker could get face serious opposition from fellow Democrats since members of the state's congressional delegation can run for the Senate this year without giving up their seats in the House. Next year, that would not have been the case. Rep. Frank Pallone (D) has already been looking at a run and others may follow. A crowded field could be an unpredictable field, and that's not good for Booker who is quite clearly the frontrunner.

Barbara Buono: Trailing badly in the polls, Christie's gubernatorial opponent is desperately in need of a shot in the campaign arm. Had the governor set the special election for Nov. 5, she would have stood to receive a boost from having a Senate Democratic nominee on the same ballot, turning out voters and exciting the base for the same day. But now, Buono is back to square one against Christie, which currently  means a huge deficit in the polls.

Senate Republicans: Republicans will not have a senator who gets more than a year to build a record. Nor will they get a nominee who gets a spot on the ballot with Christie. Winning a Senate seat in this blue state is always an uphill climb for the GOP but as recently as Monday it looked like there might be a path to creating more favorable circumstances. That no longer looks to be the case. It's not impossible for Republicans to win -- a low turnout October election and the potential for a heated Democratic primary are two things the GOP can try to exploit. But this looks like a big lift for the party right now.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

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