Focused on securing a historic landslide victory in November, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is keeping distance between himself and GOP Senate candidate Steve Lonegan. Allies of the Governor say they expect he will formally endorse Lonegan for the October special election, but won’t campaign or fundraise with him. This year, Christie is all about Christie.
To say Christie is a heavy favorite for reelection is a gross understatement. He leads his Democrat rival by 25 points in the latest poll. He is easily the most popular Republican the Garden State has seen in years. His goal this year isn’t just to win reelection, but to win by such a convincing margin he can pitch Republicans across the country that he can expand the electoral map in 2016. His reelection campaign is really his “demo tape” for the 2016 nomination.
He is so focused on running up the score in his reelection that he scheduled the special election to replace deceased Sen. Frank Lautenberg a few weeks before the general election in November. A strict reading of the law would have suggested a special election this November or sometime next year. Christie, however, didn’t want to risk a higher minority turnout driven by Democrat Senate candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).
An October special election, though, gives the GOP a chance to capture the Senate seat. Turnout is expected to be very low, which itself favors Republicans. Booker is currently embroiled in questions surrounding his tech start-up WayWire. Although the potential scandal came to light too late to impact the primary, it could do serious damage to Booker in the general.
Christie has a lot of political capital in New Jersey. His public embrace of President Obama during Hurricane Sandy relief efforts engendered a lot of good will with Democrats and Democrat-leaning Independents. Lending aid to Lonegan would boost the GOP candidate’s chances in the October special election. Even if such support shaved a couple points over his reelection margin, it would give the GOP a chance to pick up a critical Senate seat.
Christie’s reluctance to help Lonegan may be personal. They fought a bitter primary in 2009 to secure the GOP nomination for Governor. Lonegan was especially sharp in his campaign rhetoric. He accused Christie of “vapid double-talk” and called his budget-cutting plans “irresponsible.” Christie may simply be reluctant to help a former rival.
Leaders, though, are supposed to rise above such things. In the wake of his almost-certain reelection, Christie will begin courting Republican voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and other early voting states in advance of the 2016 primaries. His opponents for the nomination will be sure to remind these same voters that Christie declined to come to the aid of his party at a time when it might have made a difference.