New Jersey's Christie Names Fill-In For U.S. Senate Seat

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has picked the state's attorney general, Republican Jeff Chiesa, to fill the seat vacated by the death of Democrat Frank Lautenberg earlier this week. Chiesa says he will not seek the seat in a special election set for October. The choice is unlikely to please Republicans in Washington, who would like to hold the seat for more than five months.

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he would move quickly to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Democratic Frank Lautenberg, and he did. Today, Christie tapped the state's attorney general, Republican Jeff Chiesa for the job.

But Chiesa's moment in the Senate will be brief, as NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Jeff Chiesa is not exactly a household name in New Jersey, but he is well-known to those who've been following the career of Governor Christie.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: There's very few people in my life that I know better than Jeff.

ROSE: Christie says he's known Chiesa since they worked together at the same law firm in the early 1990s.

CHRISTIE: We've been together much of the time since then. I've appointed somebody who I have great faith and confidence in, and someone who I know almost as well as I know my own family.

ROSE: Chiesa followed Christie from private practice to the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey. When Christie was elected governor, Chiesa worked for him again - first as chief counsel, then as attorney general. But Chiesa insists he will not be the governor's proxy in Washington.

INTERIM SENATOR JEFF CHIESA: I'm my own person. So when I go down there, I'm going to try to do the best I can to conduct myself in a way that I think is going to represent me and my family, in a way that we can be proud of and the people that I represent.

ROSE: But Chiesa won't represent them for long. He says he has no plans to run for the seat in a special election that's set for October. The governor's decision to hold that election three weeks before the state's regular election day, when Christie himself will be up for a second term, has annoyed members of both parties. Democrats charge that Christie is spending taxpayer money to avoid being on the same ballot as popular Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who's expected to run for the Senate seat. So does New Jersey native Jon Stewart, host of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV PROGRAM, "THE DAILY SHOW")

JON STEWART: Oh, my God. That is such a self-serving, corrupt abuse of power. I miss New Jersey so much.

ROSE: Republicans aren't thrilled either. They were hoping the governor might appoint an interim senator to serve until November of 2014, or at least pick someone who's interested in running for the seat this year.

But Montclair State University political scientist Brigid Harrison says Christie has other concerns.

BRIGID HARRISON: Choosing a kind of placeholder candidate is not surprising, given the governor is up for reelection. Mr. Chiesa's appointment probably won't alienate anyone.

ROSE: Harrison says choosing someone who wants to run for the seat would risk alienating the other potential Republican candidates. So it is Jeff Chiesa, who begins his five-month tour as an interim U.S. senator on Monday.

Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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