Chris Christie’s opponent in the New Jersey governor’s race has launched an effort to drum up opposition to his plans for a special election that critics have called self-serving. Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono sent a petition to supporters Thursday asking them to “demand” Christie reverse his decision to hold a special election in October to fill New Jersey’s seat in the U.S. Senate that became empty with the death of Democrat Frank Lautenberg Monday.Following Lautenberg’s death, Christie had the option to schedule the election for a replacement on Nov. 5, on the same day of the general election that will include his re-election race and other local contests. Instead, he chose to schedule a special election one month earlier. Critics have pointed out replacing Lautenberg in a separate election will cost New Jersey more money and have suggested the move was self-serving since many insiders speculate Christie’s standing in his own race could be hurt by increased turnout generated by a Senate vote that is likely to feature high-profile Democrat Cory Booker.
In its email to supporters, the Buono campaign included a link to an online petition on the Buono For Governor site. The email framed the special election scheduling as a tactic designed to give Christie an advantage over Buono in their race at taxpayers’ expense.
“Governor Christie easily could have set the New Jersey Senate special election date for Election Day this November. Instead, Christie, worrying about his own race for governor, set the date just 3 weeks earlier — to the tune of $24 MILLION WASTED taxpayer dollars,” the email said. “He is spending YOUR money. … We’ve got to send Christie a message that we demand he hold the special election in November and save New Jersey taxpayers 24 million dollars. ”
The Buono campaign’s email also labeled Christie’s decision to hold the special election “true hypocrisy” given his focus on “cutting wasteful spending out of the budget.”
“Christie calls himself a fiscal conservative but blatantly spends taxpayer dollars for his own political gain,” the email said. “It is yet another example of why Chris Christie has to go.”
Christie’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment about Buono’s petition.
The governor faced questions about his rationale for holding the special Senate election almost immediately. At the press conference where he announced the decision Tuesday, Christie dismissed questions about the cost and purpose of holding a special. Christie argued state statutes would have required him to hold off from announcing plans for the election if it was held in November and said this was the best way to get an elected representative in the seat as quickly as possible. He also claimed he could have appointed his own pick to fill the seat until 2014 if he was truly interested in playing politics with Lautenberg’s departure.
“There’s no political purpose to this,” Christie said. “The option to have it on the general election is not an option.”
Buono’s petition may be one of the earlier signs of a full-court press by Christie’s rivals to bring the Senate and elections together. A Democratic source in New Jersey said party operatives and progressive groups are currently researching potential legal challenges to the special election schedule. Democrats at the statehouse in Trenton are also taking aim at the Senate special. After Christie announced his decision to call for the special election in October, Democratic state Sen. Shirley Turner announced she is drafting legislation to move the general election to the same day as the Senate race. As for Buono, a source on her campaign said they are monitoring developments surrounding the special and weighing multiple options about how to address it.
Multiple polls currently show Christie ahead of Buono by over 30 points. He has said he plans to announce his appointment of an interim replacement for Lautenberg sometime this week. Christie is scheduled to hold a news conference at 1:30 PM where he is expected to address the appointment.