In Sunday’s Star-Ledger, Paul Mulshine wrote a brutal column directed at the governor. Headined “Time To Call It a Day, Guv,” the column lands a trifecta of punches. First, he suggested Christie should drop out of the presidential race; second, he reminded readers that voters want Christie to resign as governor if he doesn’t drop out of the race; third, the story not only shows a photo of the famous Christie-Obama post-Hurricane hug. Not the image a candidate for the Republican nomination wants bouncing around right now, and even if the picture was the work of a photo editor, the caption was just as rough: “It’s as close to president as Christie will ever get.”
If the call to action by Mulshine seemed a little personal—the libertarian-leaning columnist has never been a fan of the governor —there’s a more objective reason political obsessives should be looking at the calendar.
Pay attention to Friday, September 4, 2015. According to Article XI, Section VII of the State Constitution, if the Governor were to resign by that date, less than three weeks away, there would be a Special Election for Governor and Lt. Governor just under two months later, on November 3, 2015.
A resignation after September 4 would move the Special Election to November 2016. Presumably, if Christie is going to resign to run for President full time—as the poll Mulshine refers to indicates a majority of NJ voters want him to do—he would wait until after 9/4. That would give Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno more than a year as an incumbent before she had to run. (There would be special primaries in 2016.)
If Guadagno indeed becomes Governor, she would then appoint a new Lt. Gov within 45 days; her choice would not face Senate confirmation. Maybe she chooses someone who has been bandied about as a potential challenger to her, like Tom Kean, Jr. or Jon Bramnick, to try to avoid a tough primary.
If Christie somehow did decide to resign before Sept 4—meaning there would not be time for a primary—opinions differ on how the parties would choose candidates to run in the special that would occur this November. Some believe the state parties would pick the candidates. (Note that in New Jersey, state parties are constituted differently: the GOP has a two committee representatives—a man and a woman—from each county, regardless of size, mirroring the national party, which has a chairman and a national committeeman and committeewoman from each state. State Democrats apportion based on the population of each county.)
Many storylines thus emerge. Does Guadagno enjoy an automatic lock on the nomination? Does an insider scenario in which the candidate is picked by the party favor state senate president Steve Sweeney over Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop? One thing is nearly certain: a special election in a presidential year, when Democratic turnout will be at its highest, will make it tough for the GOP to hold onto the governorship. Does that make Christie any likelier to resign before the Sept 4 deadline so a low turnout 2015 can be held? That seems nearly impossible to imagine, since an election that hands the keys over to the Democrats in Nov 15 would probably prove disastrous for Christie in New Hampshire, which will vote just three months later. Additionally, the well-liked but not well-known Kim Guadagno could probably use the extra year to work the state as the incumbent governor, much as Jodi Rell did when she became Connecticut’s governor after John Rowland resigned in a corruption scandal, eventually going on to win on her own steam.
So just as Paul Mulshine threw three quick punches, political watchers have (at least) three scenarios to consider: 1) The governor resigns before Sept 4 and there’s a special two months later. 2) He resigns after Sept 4 and there’s a special in 2016. 3) He doesn’t resign at all and remains New Jersey’s governor until the end of 2017.