Only time will tell how well New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie finessed a decision that seemed to pit his personal interests against those of the broader public.
But by calling an Oct. 16 special election to replace the late Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, it appears the governor took the most politically advantageous option available to him.
Christie insisted Tuesday that the only concern in his decision-making was the importance of elected representation for New Jersey in the U.S. Senate, the value of which outweighed the added costs of scheduling a special statewide election just a few weeks before the regularly scheduled election in November.
But cynics — who were legion Tuesday — assumed that Christie, who's running for a second term and is thought to have White House ambitions, wanted to ensure the biggest re-election vote margin possible, so he scheduled the special and general elections on separate dates.
According to that theory, Christie's move came as a result of worries that Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat who is running for the Senate seat, could have drawn big numbers of energized Democrats to the polls — which could have cut deep into Christie's expected victory margin in November.
So Christie needed at least a believable explanation for his decision, especially since scheduling the special election separately from the general will cost New Jersey taxpayers about $12 million more than holding both elections on the same day.
Christie anticipated the criticism, and provided this explanation:
"In the end, the cost associated with having a special primary and general election, in my mind, cannot be measured against the value of having an elected representative in the United States Senate when so many consequential issues are being debated and determined this year. The citizens of New Jersey need to have an elected representative to the U.S. Senate, and have it as soon as possible."
Sure, plenty of folks weren't buying it. But at least it was plausible.