You may remember the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray’s character, meteorologist Phil Connors, relives the same day over and over. The way things are shaping up politically, voters in New Jersey will soon be experiencing their own version of Groundhog Day.
After the passing of Senator Frank Lautenberg, the rumor mill immediately began churning as the political establishment in New Jersey and inside the Beltway speculated what would happen next. With Republican Governor Chris Christie essentially holding all the cards, whether it be through his power to appoint an interim successor or to determine the timing of an election to replace the long-time Democratic senator, the political pundits had a field day contemplating all the possible scenarios.Complicating the situation was the fact that Governor Christie, who has made no secret about his presidential aspirations, is up for re-election this November. A huge win over his Democratic challenger, State Senator Barbara Buono, in an overwhelmingly “blue state” would theoretically propel him to the front of the pack of Republican presidential hopefuls for 2016.
Christie had several options. Pursuant to New Jersey law, he could order that the Senate seat be filled this November on Election Day. There was also talk that Christie might delay the election until November 2014. According to the statute, the governor is permitted to make a temporary appointment to the Senate seat until such time as an election has taken place. The law gives the governor great latitude in determining the time frame for setting an election date, stating that the governor has the power to call a special election if he “shall deem it advisable.”
Well, Governor Christie apparently “deemed it advisable” to call a special election for October 16, 2013, just three weeks before Election Day, which will be preceded by a primary election on August 13. While discussing the rationale for his decision, Christie explained that, “I want to have an elected senator as soon as possible.”
The decision was fraught with political pitfalls for Governor Christie.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who has achieved celebrity status in New Jersey and across the nation, declared his interest in the Senate seat last December, before Senator Lautenberg announced in February that he would not seek reelection. With all of the hype that would inevitably surround a special election and the prospect of being on the ballot together with a well-known commodity like Cory Booker, setting the election to fill Lautenberg’s seat on Election Day in November would virtually ensure that New Jersey Democrats would come to the polls in droves, thereby affecting Christie’s desired electoral outcome by perhaps cutting into his large expected margin of victory.
Had Christie delayed the election until November 2014, he could have given a gift to the national Republican Party, whose support he covets for a possible presidential run, by naming a Republican to the Senate for a year and a half, as opposed to a much shorter period of time. The prospect of having a Republican senator fill what has historically been a Democratically-held senate seat undoubtedly left the GOP giddy.
Instead, Christie ostensibly sought to protect his own political interests. When he named his long-time friend and confidant New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa to fill Lautenberg’s seat on interim basis, he gave the Senate Republicans an extra vote, albeit temporarily. And he all but assured himself a big win on Election Day, with no other heavily contested statewide contest on the ballot which might have attracted more Democratic voters to the polls.
Governor Christie did take some heat in the press for the hefty price tag that is associated with his decision. By calling a special election, the state will incur costs of approximately $24 million. When asked by the media about this new and perhaps unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer funds, the governor, in typical “Christie-esque” style, replied, “I don’t know what the cost is, and I quite frankly don’t care.”
The bottom line is, New Jersey voters will be going to the polls during the dog days of summer.
With the primary less than two months away, it appears that it will be a four-way race on the Democratic side. Cory Booker will square off with Representatives Frank Pallone, Rush Holt, and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.
With an abbreviated election cycle and an accelerated timetable, the candidates are under intense pressure to demonstrate their fund raising prowess and to line up key supporters rather quickly.
The question is, will New Jersey voters show up to the polls?
With the regularly scheduled primary election that took place earlier this month, the Senate primary in August, the special Senate election in October, and Election Day in November, New Jersey voters will have gone to the polls four times in just five months.
It will certainly feel like Groundhog Day, with voters being told they need to go to the polls and vote again and again.
Rather than feeling resentment at the overabundance of elections, our community should embrace the opportunity to make our voices heard at the polls at every available opportunity.
With so much at stake, we cannot afford voter fatigue.We may be inclined to tune out politics while we are enjoying our summer vacation, but to ignore a gubernatorial race or a Senate race would send a dangerous message to our elected officials that our community simply does not care.
So, in the midst of summer camp and trips to the beach, get ready for a flurry of political activity. And when the calls come to go to the polls on multiple occasions and vote, let’s be sure that we answer the calls accordingly and do our civic duty each and every time.
N. Aaron Troodler is an attorney and a principal of Paul Revere Public Relations, a public relations and political consulting firm.Visit him on the Web at www.PaulReverePR.com or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/troodler
By N. Aaron Troodler, Esq.