WASHINGTON—New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has called a special election for October to replace longtime Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died Monday.
Christie made public his quick decision at a Tuesday news conference in Trenton, saying “the people must choose” who they want to represent the state in Washington.
While candidates for both parties scramble to set the fields for an August primary, Christie will have to name a temporary replacement to fill the position for the next four months. Christie, a moderate Republican, is expected to appoint a member of the GOP, which would temporarily lower the Democratic majority to 54-46.
But a Republican appointment is far from certain: Christie is known for stirring controversy, including last year when he publicly praised President Barack Obama days before the 2012 election. Already, in calling a special election, Christie declined the opportunity to appoint a Republican to fill the rest of Lautenberg’s term, which expires at the end of 2014.
Lautenberg, who died from pneumonia complications, announced in February that he would not seek reelection next year. He was the last World War II veteran to serve in the Senate.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat, earlier this year formed an exploratory committee and announced he would seek Lautenberg’s seat. While that gives him an advantage in organization, the Democratic field could be stronger now, since state lawmakers won’t have to give up their seats to run in the special election.
New Jersey has not elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972.
Christie, widely seen as a 2016 presidential hopeful, is up for reelection in November and leads his Democratic opponent, Barbara Buono, by a wide margin in the polls.