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TRENTON, N.J. — Gov. Chris Christie said today that he wants to hold a special election in October to fill the U.S. Senate seat made vacant by Frank Lautenberg’s death on Monday, and that he intends to appoint someone to serve in the meantime.
At a news conference where he laid out the process he intends to follow for filling the seat, Christie didn’t answer the big question of whom he’ll appoint to the seat in the meantime.
The move could bring criticism for putting more elections on the calendar, which can be expensive. The state Office of Legislative Services says each election costs the state about $12 million.
In this case, there would be two — an Aug. 13 primary and the special election on Oct. 16.
“The people must choose,” Christie said.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat, announced months ago that he was planning to seek the seat.
Lautenberg, who turned 89 in January and was the oldest member of the Senate, at first bristled at Booker’s candidacy. But the lawmaker, who was first elected to the Senate in 1982, announced in February that he would not seek re-election next year and would retire when his term expired at the beginning of 2015.
Lautenberg died after suffering complications from pneumonia. A funeral is scheduled for Wednesday.
Tuesday is New Jersey’s gubernatorial and legislative primary day. There’s not much intrigue expected in the elections.
But there was deep intrigue and speculation over who will fill the Senate seat in the short-term and when the election might be, and how Christie would navigate a difficult course. If he names a Republican to the seat, it would certainly upset Democrats who say the seat belongs to their party. If he chooses a Democrat, it could upset members of the governor’s own party as he considers whether to run for president in 2016.
New Jersey has not elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972. The last Republican to serve in the Senate was Nicholas Brady, who was appointed in 1982 to finish the term of Democrat Harrison Williams, who resigned amid scandal in the last year of his term. Lautenberg won the seat later that year and remained in the Senate until his death, except for a brief retirement in 2001 and 2002.