Christie's decision on successor for Lautenberg could boost GOP chances in 2014
In point of fact, Christie may have the option of not appointing an interim successor to the deceased Senator Frank Lautenberg. As Nate Silver points out, he may declare a special election for 2013 with the winner forced to run in 2014 as well.
That probably is not the optimum solution. But there is little doubt that Christie's decision - if he decides to name a caretaker Senator - will impact his chances for the 2016 presidential nomination and could give the GOP chances a boost to take over the Senate in 2014.
It may be best to treat elections involving an appointed senator as open-seat races, rather than those in which incumbents are running. (This is, in fact, how we handle such cases in our Senate forecasting model.) While these appointed senators enjoy some of the benefits of incumbency, like name recognition and fund-raising ability, they usually lack the deterrent effect -- that is, the tendency to prevent strong challengers from running -- that most incumbent senators have. In addition, they often lack a track record: one of the reasons incumbency has predictive power is that it tells us, if nothing else, that the senator has been elected before by a plurality of the state's voters. That usually isn't true in the case of appointees.
With that said, this might be a case in which even modest electoral benefits would be better than nothing for Republicans (assuming Mr. Christie appointed someone from his own party). As Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics notes, Republicans have had trouble identifying viable candidates to run for the seat in 2014. Perhaps Mr. Christie can persuade one of the party's stronger candidates to run.
If Mr. Christie wants to maximize the G.O.P.'s chances of holding on to the seat, the path is fairly straightforward. He would want to appoint a moderate Republican who had held a prominent elected office before, who could raise money quickly and who could scale up to the effort that a statewide campaign would require. My 2008 study found that well-qualified appointees performed much better than the others.
Silver points to two New Jersey congressmen who ran successfully in districts carried by President Obama in 2012. But it would still be an uphill battle for any Republican in deep blue New Jersey:
Because of New Jersey's strong Democratic lean, the appointee would still probably be the underdog against Mayor Cory Booker of Newark or whomever the Democrats nominated. But someone like Mr. Runyan would stand a fighting chance, whereas an underqualified nominee or a conservative Republican would most likely be added to the long list of Senate appointees who failed at the ballot box.
The GOP took a step back in the Northeast in 2012, after the party had something of a resurrection in that region in 2010. Either congressman would probably do well. But if conservatives want one of their own to run, they might lobby Christie to appoint 5th District Congressman Scott Garrett who has tea party connections and a solid conservative voting record. If Christie is, indeed, looking to 2016, he might consider Garrett as a way to placate national conservatives who are quite unhappy with him for his embrace of President Obama a week before the election last year, and his position on gun control and immigration reform among others.
But it isn't likely - Christie will probably go with a moderate and national conservatives would see the appointment of Garrett as a bone tossed in their direction.
Christie's problems with the right are far more fundamental than any atmospheric gesture could fix.