New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Thursday named the state's attorney general to the U.S. Senate until voters choose a successor to the late Senator Frank Lautenberg in a special election in October.
Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, who like Christie is a Republican, does not plan to run for the seat, the governor told a news conference in Trenton, New Jersey.
"He will not be a candidate in the primary or general election," Christie said, adding, "I'm perfectly comfortable with that decision."
Christie's handling of the vacant seat has come under scrutiny, as the outspoken governor is up for reelection and also thought to be interested in the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Christie's decision to name a placeholder leaves the field open to candidates who want to succeed Lautenberg, a Democrat first elected senator in 1982. He died on Monday at age 89 of complications from viral pneumonia.
Among Democrats believed eyeing the seat are Newark Mayor Cory Booker, U.S. Representative Rush Holt and U.S. Representative Frank Pallone. Interested Republicans reportedly include former Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan and businessman Joe Plumeri.
Candidates must file nominating petitions with the state Division of Elections by Monday.
Chiesa, 48, has been New Jersey's attorney general since January 2012. Prior to that he served as Christie's chief counsel and on Christie's transition team.
He also worked for seven years in the federal prosecutor's office when Christie was U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey.
A New Jersey native, he is a former partner at the prominent law firm of Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci, where Christie also once was a partner. It is now known as Dughi, Hewitt & Domalewski.
Christie this week called the special election for October 16, with a primary election to be held on August 13.
His decision angered some Democrats who wanted him to hold the special election on the same day as the November 5 general election, when Christie is up for reelection.
But holding both contests on the same day could mean higher turnout by Democrats voting in the Senate race. Political observers said Christie, a potential presidential contender, needs to avoid that so he can show strong backing in his home state in the general election.
But many Republicans were angry that Christie chose not to fill Lautenberg's seat with a Republican through 2014, when the term expires. That had been one of his options.
By not filling the seat for the next year and a half, some Republicans said, Christie was mistakenly trying to win Democratic support, with an eye to his own political ambitions rather than the interests of his party.
Chiesa joins the Senate just as it begins work on historic legislation to overhaul the nation's immigration laws and give millions of illegal immigrants a way to become a U.S. citizen.
The Senate will start debating the bill on Friday. Republican senators are trying to strengthen border security provisions in the legislation and could find an ally in Chiesa.
"I think the first thing we have to do is make sure the borders are secure," Chiesa said on Thursday. "From there, these issues are new to me."
With Chiesa, Democrats lose one seat in the Senate and will hold 54 of the 100 seats in the upper chamber. That could make it harder for the supporters of immigration reform to pass the bill with 70 votes as they hope.
In April, a bipartisan group of state attorneys general sent a letter to congressional leaders expressing support for immigration reform. Chiesa was not one of the 36 attorneys general who signed the letter.