New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie played it safe on Thursday with his surprise choice of the state's nonelected Attorney General Jeff Chiesa to serve four months in the Senate.
He will temporary fill the vacancy left by the death Monday of veteran Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat.
Chiesa is more lawyer than politician, and one of the handful of state attorneys general in the nation who is appointed rather than elected. He and Christie worked closely while Christie was a U.S. attorney.
Christie also followed precedent within his own state. The last two occasions in which there was a vacancy in the Senate, governors chose caretakers from their own party to replace a member from the opposing party. Each time they served a few months and then did not run in the election.
When Republican Sen. William Barbour died in 1943, Gov. Charles Edison chose longtime Democratic state official Arthur Walsh to serve until a special election could be held.
Following the resignation of Democratic Sen. Harrison Williams in 1982, Tom Kean appointed Republican investment banker Nicholas Brady -- who later in his career became U.S. treasury secretary -- to serve from April until November, when Lautenberg won his first term.
Now Republicans other than Chiesa, among them Steve Lonegan, former Bogota mayor and 2009 Christie primary foe, will fight it out in what could become a crowded field for the Aug. 13 primary.
It is not certain whether Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who had been considered the probable Democratic Senate nominee in 2014, when Lautenberg's term expired, will run in October or wait a year until a full six-year Senate term is up for grabs.
Following Lautenberg's death, Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone suggested he was thinking about a Senate run. Pallone or any of the state's House members do not have to give up their seats in order to run in this odd-numbered year.
Many state political observers felt Christie was going to give the appointment to his closest political friend, state Sen. Joe Kyrillos Jr., the 2012 Republican Senate nominee.
But doing so would have meant that Kyrillos would have had to resign his state senate seat and then compete in the special election Oct. 16 that he was uncertain of winning. A defeat of Christie's closest friend in October would have given the governor a political black eye three weeks before his anticipated big re-election.
Failure to deliver a win in October for Kyrillos would have raised the grumbling among many New Jersey Republicans that Christie -- his "Jersey-boy" style and political independence aside -- is of no help to other Republicans on the state ballot.
In elections for the state Assembly and state Senate in 2011, Republicans failed to make a dent in the Democratic majorities in either chamber.
Whatever happens in the August primary or in the October special election, it seems safe to say that Christie played it safe with his surprising pick of the nonpolitician Chiesa to the Senate for four months as a political caretaker.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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