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New Jersey court clears the way for U.S. Senate special election

The flag-draped casket of the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) lies in repose in the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, June
The flag-draped casket of the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) lies in repose in the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, June

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Jersey's special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Frank Lautenberg will go ahead this year as scheduled, after the state Supreme Court declined on Thursday to hear a legal challenge.

Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, ordered a special primary election on August 13 and a special general election to be held October 16 - three weeks before the regularly scheduled November election, when Christie himself is up for re-election.

Democrats accused Christie of making a political calculation, ensuring he would not appear on the same ballot as a race that might energize Democratic voters by authorizing a special election that will leave taxpayers with a $24 million tab.

In a one-page decision, Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner denied the application by Somerset Democratic Chairwoman Peg Schaffer, who argued that Christie lacked the authority to set the October election.

Schaffer could not be reached immediately for comment.

Christie, a popular governor whose no-nonsense, in-your-face style has catapulted him to national prominence, is widely seen as a strong contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

The governor appointed Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, also a Republican, to fill the seat in the interim. Chiesa promised not to compete in the special election.

Lautenberg, a Democrat who was first elected senator in 1982, died on June 3 at age 89 of complications from viral pneumonia.

Cory Booker, the Democratic mayor of Newark, leads early polls. His Democratic challengers include U.S. Congressman Frank Pallone, U.S. Congressman Rush Holt, State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.

Steve Lonegan, a conservative activist who four years ago lost to Christie in the Republican primary for governor, is running for the Republican nomination against Dr. Alieta Eck, a physician in private practice.

(Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Leslie Adler)

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