Governor Christie, Lautenberg’s Seat and the Media

Lautenberg Christie

It’s interesting to look at the various ways media outlets report on Chris Christie’s choices in selecting a replacement for Frank Lautenberg, the recently deceased Senior Senator from New Jersey. A front page story in the New York Times was “Death of Senator Places Christie in Difficult Spot.” It included a picture of Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the Democratic frontrunner for the seat. Lautenberg’s obituary was in Page A20. In some ways, it reflects how the newspapers are no longer the source to get the most recent information. Presumably, most of the readers had already heard of Lautenberg’s passing.

There is another way of presenting the story that interests me. At 12:51 PM, Jason Zigerle of NY Mag noted that Chris Christie had a choice between nominating a moderate Republican and a tea party Republican.

Either way, Christie has to pick a replacement for Lautenberg. This is something governors usually like to do, especially since that replacement would enjoy a huge advantage as an incumbent in the upcoming special election, but it will be a complicated choice for Christie. As a candidate for governor in a blue state, Christie has lately been casting himself as a uniter and a problem-solver, someone who’s above petty partisan politics. In that vein, he might want to appoint a moderate Republican like State Senator Tom Kean Jr. or his longtime adviser Bill Palatucci. At the same time, national Republicans, some of whom are still angry at Christie for his post-Sandy embrace of Obama in the days before the 2012 presidential election, will want him to tap a more conservative replacement. As David Axelrod tweeted this morning, “Fascinating dilemma for Christie. Does he name interim who reflects his more moderate state, or feed Tea Party for ’16?”

Axelrod’s tweet also suggests that the choice to replace Lautenberg is also between a Chris Christie Republican and a tea partier. A Politico piece posted at 11:59 AM considered that Republicans were the most likely choices.

Seeing the ailing senator, a number of Republicans have spent the last year trying to convince Christie that they would be the best successor to Lautenberg, a GOP source with ties to Christie said.

“The governor has enjoyed this parade of potential successors,” he joked.

The source conceded that one factor for Christie will be the optics of a pick while he is running for governor.

“The governor is running a very bipartisan campaign at the moment for reelection,” the Republican source said. “Should he choose a very partisan Republican to fill that seat, he could run the risk of getting the Democrats all upset whereas right now they’re not.”

Christie could also appoint state Sen. Kevin O’Toole, a longtime friend of the governor. If the governor is conscious of how an appointment might look politically, O’Toole carries the added benefit of being an Asian-American, which would most likely bring cheers from the state’s sizable Asian population.

Another choice could be state Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, the minority leader in the chamber, who has made clear in Republican circles he planned to run for the seat next year.

Two other less likely choices are Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, one of the only Republican women in the state in a high-level position, and Rep. Leonard Lance, one of the few members of the delegation Christie gets along with.

Chris Christie is probably happiest if the conversation is about which Republican he’ll choose to fill Lautenberg’s seat. This way there won’t be the assumption that he would nominate someone outside his party. If he picks a moderate State Senator, it won’t be seen as the conservative choice.


However, in some places the question has shifted to one of Democrats VS Republicans, one Lautenberg’s party prefers. Sean Sullivan of the Post raised it fairly early in a 10:58 AM piece. A Huffington Post writeup mentioned the preference of the state Democratic Party Chairman for a Democrat. Joan Walsh of Salon suggested that Democratic donors should rethink supporting Christie if he backs a Republican.

This does demonstrate a partisan worldview on anyone expecting a Governor to appoint someone from another political party. When Governors have the opportunity to replace the other party’s Senators, they tend to pick their own guys, if they’re legally able to do so. When Republican Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania died in a plane crash, Governor Bob Casey appointed Harris Wofford, a Democratic businessman to the seat. After winning a special election, Wofford went on to be considered a potential running mate for Bill Clinton, and later lost a bid for a full term to Rick Santorum. The implication that Christie should act differently just isn’t realistic.

It is pretty clear there isn’t much benefit for Chris Chstistie in appointing himself. Looking at the records of previously appointed Senators, Nate Silver determined that if Chris Christie wanted to do what was best for the Republican party, his best choice would be to select a qualified moderate Republican who can fundraise, and run in the next elections. That would probably make the conservative fundraisers happiest, even if all it does is force the Democrats to spend more money in an expensive media market.

An evil thing Christie could do is to appoint a liberal who isn’t named Cory Booker, forcing an expensive and potentially damaging primary when Booker comes for the seat. That does seem quite unlikely.

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at
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