By Jessica Taylor
June 14, 2013

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been criticized for his decision to hold a costly October special election for the state’s open Senate seat rather than a concurrent vote with his own November re-election. But one of his GOP predecessors says it may have been the best choice to make sure the contest to succeed the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg gets top billing.

Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a former EPA administrator under the Bush administration, wouldn’t volunteer what she would have done if she were in office, but said on Friday’s The Daily Rundown that if Christie had set a November election date, the governor’s race, where Christie remains a heavy favorite for a second term, would overshadow the Senate contest.

“The two elections at least lets people focus on the importance of the Senate race so it doesn’t get lost. You have to understand in New Jersey the power of the governor is such that is the dominating race when it’s the ballot,” Whitman said of the Garden State’s off-year contests for statewide offices.
“Whoever is running for the Senate, with all due respect to the senators and their importance to the state, in this instance it takes second place,” Whitman added. “It’s no accident the elections are staged the way they are.”
Whitman, herself a moderate Republican in the mold of Christie, said she still thought more centrist Republicans could get through primary in the state, even though the open race didn’t draw any top GOP names, with conservative activist Steven Lonegan, who challenged Christie from the right in 2009, the only major candidate. Lonegan is an heavy underdog to whichever Democrat emerges from the August primary, with Newark Mayor Cory Booker leading in party contest over Reps. Rush Holt and Frank Pallone.

Instead, Whitman argued it was a compressed election timetable and having to spend in the expensive New York City and Philadelphia media markets that probably made other Republicans hesitant to run this fall, after Democrats had already been preparing for an open seat 2014 race for months.

“New Jersey is a pretty moderate state for Republicans as well,” said Whitman “It was more that you only had four months to put something together, and that’s typical.”