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Christie Calls For October Special Election To Fill Lautenberg’s Senate Seat

Politicians On Both Sides Of Aisle Blast Move, But Pundits Say It's Very Smart

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TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is calling for a special election in October to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Frank Lautenberg’s death on Monday.

The governor made an announcement during a Tuesday afternoon news conference in Trenton.

As CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis reported Tuesday night, there was great speculation over Christie’s decision before the announcement. Would he appoint a Democrat for Lautenberg’s seat, or a Republican to please his own party?

But with Christie’s decision, the special primary would be Aug. 13 with the special election held Oct. 16.

“The statute provides for the governor of New Jersey to make this decision if the governor deems it advisable to have a special election,” Christie said. “I deem it advisable to have a special election — in fact, I deem it necessary.”

Christie said he intends to appoint someone to fill the seat in the meantime, but he didn’t say who.

RELATED: Check New Jersey Primary Results

“The people must choose,” Christie said. “We must allow our citizens have their say over who will represent them in the Senate for the majority of the next year and half. The people of New Jersey deserve to have that choice.”

Christie said he didn’t want “insiders and a few party elites to determine who the nominee of the Republican party and the Democratic party will be.”

“I believe that it is vitally important for the people to have a voice and a choice and the statute clearly and unequivocally allows for the governor, in my sole discretion, to make that decision,” Christie reiterated. “I have made that decision. It is final. It has been signed and it is over.”

The move could bring criticism for putting more elections on the calendar, which can be expensive. The primary is expected to cost roughly $24 million, in a state the governor continued to say is cash-strapped.

“The state will be responsible for all costs of this election,” Christie said. “In the end, the cost of having a special primary and general election, in my mind, 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.”

“I don’t know what the cost is and I, quite frankly, don’t care. I don’t think you could put a price tag on what it’s worth to have an elected person in the United States Senate,” the governor added.

Christie’s gubernatorial challenger Democrat Barbara Buono blasted the decision to hold a special election three weeks before the November general election.

“Earlier this year, the governor cited money as to why he vetoed early voting. However, despite costing millions of dollars, Gov. Christie made the cynical and arrogant decision to call a special election in October. His choice made it clear that he does not care about wasting taxpayer money. Moreover, by holding two elections within weeks of each other, the governor will needlessly disenfranchise voters. He should change his decision and hold the election on Nov. 5,” Buono’s spokesman said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

Former governor and current New Jersey State Sen. Richard Codey also lambasted Christie’s decision to hold the special election right before the Nov. general election.

“It’s as if the governor is giving the finger to the residents of the state of New Jersey and that finger cost us $24 million,” Codey told WCBS 880 on Tuesday afternoon.

“You can call it brilliant but I would say it’s more like arrogance, it really is,” Codey said. “This is really unconscionable.”

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a Democrat, said Christie chose the October date so that a possible surge of Democratic voter turnout for the Senate election doesn’t threaten his re-election bid.

“The November general election date is what’s best for taxpayers and voter turnout,” Oliver said. “It’s unquestionably the best option, but Gov. Christie has chosen to put partisan politics and his self-interest first.”

Baruch College pundit Mickey Blum told CBS 2′s Marcia Kramer it was smart political footwork by Christie. The special election  means he gets to be top dog and doesn’t have to share the November ballot with Senate candidates in a race where a Democrat might have the edge.

“He gets to say to the people ‘I gave you the choice as fast as possible,’ and most importantly for him he gets to be at the top of the ticket in November and rack up a big margin and that’s what he wants,” Blum said.

Why does that matter?

“People around the country, Republicans even, if they would want a more conservative Republican, would have to look at him as a winner, somebody who could get them back the White House,” Blum said.

Some Republicans are so angry with Christie’s decision they are calling him a “Rino” — a Republican in name only, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took his side, saying had the “best interest of his state” in mind.

Meanwhile, the next shoe to drop came from the man in charge at Newark City Hall – Mayor Cory Booker. The Democrat already said he would run for Lautenberg’s Senate seat in 2014, but that was before the Senator’s death — promising voters he would not abandon Newark early.

“Let there be no doubt, I will complete my full term as mayor of Newark, New Jersey,” Booker said earlier this year in announcing his plans to run.

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 by then-Gov. Tom Kean 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.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)