Yesterday, Governor Chris Christie appointed NJ Attorney General Jeff Chiesa as New Jersey’s next U.S. Senator. Chiesa has been serving as New Jersey’s Attorney General since January of 2012. He will serve as Senator until NJ residents elect someone to replace him on October 16 in a special election. The first and clearest take away is that Gov. Christie is rewarding a loyal lieutenant. Christie and Chiesa have been friends for 22 years and Christie stated that “There’s very few people in my life that I know better than Jeff.” Christie also announced that the new Senator-in-waiting will not be a candidate in the special election.
Both Democrats and Republicans seem to be equally offended. Republicans are outraged because Gov. Christie has selected someone who will have no platform or momentum with which to run in an aggressively blue state. Some also feel that the $12 million price tag to run a special election is outlandish and should have been avoided. Dick Armey went as far as to call the special election “debilitating stupidity.”
On the left, cries of cronyism and a conspiracy to control the new Senator’s votes have already been lobbed by Salon.
In appointing State Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa to fill the seat vacated by deceased Sen. Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has come as close to appointing himself — without actually doing so — as possible. Chiesa is a longtime loyalist and friend of the governor — with little public profile or known ideological agenda — following Christie from private practice, to the U.S. attorney’s office, to the governor’s mansion, making one wonder if his Senate office will effectively function as an extension of the governor’s office in Washington.
Conservatives should take a long pause when being critical of the same things as Salon is. Nevertheless, Christie maintains that
"There's no political purpose. The political purpose is to give the people a voice," Christie said. "The issues facing the United States Senate are too important not to have an elected representative making those decisions."
Christie is taking the position that he should get the decision out of his hands and into the hands of voters as quickly as possible. It may also be the only legal way to hold a special election under New Jersey law. And all of that may be true, but there are an awful lot of Machiavellian benefits to his decision. First, the Democratic primary is going to be a battle. Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, is the obvious front-runner. Booker has national name recognition and a constant presence in media outlets. He’s famous for saving a woman from a burning building, a dog from the cold, and pitching a tent on a drug corner. Often these things seem to happen when a news crew is close by.
However, two others have already jumped into the fray. Rep. Frank Pallone, also from Northern New Jersey, has announced that he is going to run. Pallone is an interesting name because he is sitting on more campaign cash than anyone else at this point in the election. Beyond that, he can weaken Booker because their power bases are relatively close geographically. Rep. Rush Holt from the 12th District in Central New Jersey has also thrown his hat into the ring. He is a former physicist and Jeopardy winner, but more importantly, he is well known in Trenton and Princeton. He could siphon votes from Booker with both the upper-crust academic liberals in Princeton and the urban center that is Trenton. So these three Democrats are going to have spend time, money, and effort battling each other in the special election primary -- most likely weakening them for the Oct. 16 election.
Secondly, Christie has given Senate Republicans an individual that is free to vote with them. Chiesa has no serious political record and it’s hard to know what exactly he thinks, but candidates like Tom Kean Sr. or his State Senator-son of the same name are well-known moderates, and in New Jersey, that might as well be a blue-dog Democrat. With no election pressure, Chiesa is much more likely to support Senate Republican platforms in Washington. Indeed, it only makes sense for Christie to encourage his friend to do so as he has fences to mend over his making nice with President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Finally, Christie’s special election decision is going to force Democratic voters to come out in August, October, and again in November. He has essentially stacked the deck in his own favor in the coming gubernatorial election. And conservatives should celebrate that. Let the Nation explain why:
Christie is no moderate. He’s a social conservative who opposes reproductive rights, has defunded Planned Parenthood and has repeatedly rejected attempts to restore state funding for family planning centers. He has vetoed money for clinics that provide health screenings for women, including mammograms and pap smears. He vetoed marriage equality… Christie is at his most militant when it comes to implementing the austerity agenda associated with the most conservative Republican governors.”
That’s music to my ears. Governor Christie’s decision was shrewd, calculated, and brilliant. If and when he runs for president in 2016, he can fall back on his rationale that he wanted to return the Senate seat to the people, which will sound awfully good in a general election. He must be doing something right, he already has a 52 percent approval rate coupled with an unfavorability rate of 20 percent. As good as he looks in Drumthwacket, he would look even better clobbering whatever backbencher the Democrats put up in 2016.