Clearly his own November 2013 re-election was on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's (R) mind while deciding when to call a special election to replace late U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D). His decision to proceed with a special election this October will also impact his 2016 presidential prospects. The governor's decision can both help him and hurt him in a future national campaign.
How it helps Christie's presidential ambitions:
• Increases likelihood he will win re-election this November. Christie's presidential aspirations would be dashed if he did not win a second term in Trenton, which is never assured for a Republican in blue New Jersey. The special election for the open Senate seat is likely to energize the liberal base, especially if Newark Mayor Cory Booker is the Democratic candidate. By steering the special election for U.S. Senate away from his own November election, Christie avoids adding to the voter turnout efforts of his Democratic opponent, New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono.
• Elevates bi-partisan reputation. Christie has carefully cultivated a reputation for working collaboratively with Democrats. Many Republicans would have preferred to wait until November 2014 to make the decision as to who would permanently replace Lautenberg. By not going with the Republican choice, Christie comes off as one more willing to look for the middle ground. The October choice also avoids a drawn-out legal fight with Democrats that would have undoubtedly tarnished his bi-partisan reputation.
• Portrays him as a decision maker. A president must make many vexing decisions. In the end, making tough decisions is the essence of the presidency. Witness how former President George W. Bush focused his biography, Decision Points, and organized his recently opened library around his decisions in the Oval Office. By making this important choice before analysts had even had a chance to amp up the debate, Christie exhibited his ability to make difficult decisions without a lot of hand-wringing.
How it hurts Christie's presidential ambitions:
• Solidifies his "It's all about me" persona amongst Republicans that do not perceive Christie as a team player. Many Republicans wonder whether Christie's decision-making process reflects any consideration for the team, or solely focuses on his own self-interest. His 2012 Republican National Convention keynote speech that barely mentioned Republican nominee Mitt Romney and repeated praise of President Obama during the Superstorm Sandy inspection tour on the eve of the presidential election cemented Christie's "me first" attitude in the minds of some in the GOP. Clearly this early election gives a prospective Republican candidate less time to build up their reputation in order to compete with the presumptive Booker candidacy. It also forces the National Republican Senatorial Committee to invest in races in both 2013 and 2014.
• Weakens his fiscal responsibility credentials. Holding a separate statewide special U.S. Senate election primary on August 13 and general election on October 16 would cost around $24 million. When it could be easily combined with the already scheduled November elections, which includes his gubernatorial race, it is easily portrayed as a politically inspired unnecessary use of taxpayer dollars. Expect to see his Republican opponents repeatedly bring up his "I don't know what the cost is and I quite frankly don't care" comment during the Republican primaries if he throws his hat in the ring.
Ultimately, this is just one of many decisions by one of many prospective presidential prospects that will be hyper-analyzed as partisans decide who most excites them as a candidate.
The next key decision before Christie is whom he chooses to appoint in the care-taking role between now and the special election for the Lautenberg seat. This decision will have impacts for New Jersey, the nation, and Christie's prospects in both 2013 and 2016. On balance, Christie's quick decision for an October election keeps him in the top tier of GOP contenders on the long road ahead to decide who will represent the party in 2016.
Hon. Mark R. Kennedy leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).