Chris Christie's Lautenberg Dilemma Is 2013-as-2016 All Over Again

If Christie appoints a right-winger to replace Frank Lautenberg, he angers the Democrats he needs to be reelected as governor. If he appoints a Democrat, which he probably won't, he infuriates the Republican base ahead of a presidential run. But splitting the difference, as Christie has learned in his 2013-vs.-2016 decision making, won't work either.

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie can name a successor for Frank Lautenberg, who died at the age of 89 on Monday, becoming the 299th Senator to pass away in office. But it's yet another moment when what's good for Christie in 2013 might not be good for him in 2016. Christie, after all, is a Republican running a state that voted for President Obama by almost 18 points. "Replacing a Democrat with a Democrat and then saying the voters should decide what happens next in November would no doubt be very well-received by Democrats and moderates," The Washington Post's Sean Sullivan writes. But that would mean Republicans who are already annoyed with Christie and his Obama-hugging antics would disown him.

To understand the difficult position Christie's in, look at these two tweets: "What lucky Democrat will Democrat Chris Christie appoint to Sen. Frank Lautenberg's seat?" conservative thriller author Brad Thor asks. Salon's Joan Walsh adds: "Hey Dem donors giving to Chris Christie: will you rethink if he picks a Republican to replace Lautenberg?"

Replacing Lautenberg poses several problems for Christie. State law allows Christie to appoint a replacement, and maybe to hold a special election later this year. (It's possible, Politico explains, that because it's too late for a primary, an election might have to wait till 2014.) It's likely the special election will be held in November, at the same time New Jersey votes for statewide officials, like their governor. Which means that Christie will likely be on the same ballot as Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who said he's probably running for Lautenberg's seat back in January. Having Booker on the ticket might help Christie's Democratic opponent, Barbara Buono (pictured at right). "Rumors have abounded for months that Christie was considering appointing Cory Booker," Politico's Maggie Habermann and Ginger Gibson write. "However, sources close to both men have insisted this scenario makes no sense for either of them."

So, if Christie appoints a right-winger, he angers the Democrats he needs to be reelected. If he appoints a Democrat, which he probably won't, he infuriates the Republican base he would need in the 2016 Republican primary. But splitting the difference won't work, either. Salon's Steve Kornacki points out that appointing a non-controversial old Republican as a caretaker for the seat is not without risk. The last time a Republican New Jersey governor did that a Democrat won the seat. His name was Frank Lautenberg.


(Top-left photo: In this file photograph via the Associated Press, Sen. Lautenberg listens to Gov. Christie in 2011, the young governor's second year in office.)

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