Don’t look now, but there are two key gubernatorial races in 2021- New Jersey and Virginia. The latter state has a unique system of one term and out, so we know there will be a new governor in Richmond come 2022. In New Jersey- a blue bastion of stupidity if there ever was one- the incumbent squirrel-faced Phil Murphy will run for reelection, likely unopposed in his primary barring any unforeseen event. At this point, despite his handling of the state, it is hard to imagine that “unforeseen event” unless it involves photographs, Murphy, and a donkey in Tijuana.
Thus, all the interest will be on the GOP side. It is not that New Jersey is averse to electing a “Republican” governor from time to time. After all, the rotund Chris Christie, who gives Fat Jerry Nadler a run for the money in the girth department, led the state for eight years. I know- he did the unforgivable when he hugged Obama on the beach, but when you’re sucking up to the president to get funds in the wake of a natural disaster, what’s a little hug on the beach? It was not as if he engaged in actual fellatio with another male behind a sand dune in Cape May like James McGreevey…
So far, we have four declared Republicans in the mix. The first is a former member of the state assembly- Jack Ciattarelli- and candidate for governor in 2017. Although he has a last name that would be at home on The Sopranos, can we also say “loser?” There is also businesswoman Lisa Schnell who no one has ever heard of outside the Schnell household.
Next up is Hirsh Singh- a very wealthy man who ran for governor in 2017, for the GOP nomination in the Second Congressional District in 2018, and for the GOP nomination for US Senator in 2020. Nothing against Singh, but this guy can’t even get out of a primary into a general election. Maybe the fourth try is a charm? Methinks he’s expended his political lives which are six less than that of a cat.
Finally, there is Doug Steinhardt who was chairman of the state GOP from 2017-2020. Under his leadership, he managed to allow a Democrat governor, Democrats better control of both chambers in the legislature, and the loss of several US Congressional seats not to mention two US Senate races including one against a scandal-ridden incumbent who had a “thing” for young Dominican girls.
Steinhardt fashions himself as a Trump-style candidate while Ciattarelli is placing his fortunes in the hands of Trump loyalists in the state (yes- they exist). But, they are ignorant of three facts. First, they are not Donald Trump. Second, they are not outsiders. Third, they are not non-politicians. Besides not being Donald Trump and possessing all the attributes of Trump that allowed him to catch lightning in a bottle in 2016, the question is whether a Republican MAGA message resonates in statewide races?
For an answer to that, one need look at the 2018 midterm elections in the Second Congressional District (my home district). From 1984 to 2018, the district was represented by a Republican- Frank LoBiondo. He won by repeatedly bringing home the pork. There are vital installations in the district directly related to homeland security and he sat on that committee in the House. For example, there is coast guard training and rescue station in Cape May, a major aviation research center in Pomona, and the Air National Guard center (also in Pomona) that patrols the skies over the East Coast. However, LoBiondo also managed to secure funding for brand new fire equipment using Homeland Security funds for Folsom, New Jersey (pop. 1,885).
In an open race, the aforementioned Singh lost the GOP primary to Seth Grossman, a libertarian-leaning lawyer who apparently abandoned Ron Paul and hitched his wagon to Donald Trump. He resoundingly lost to a then-Democrat, Jeff Van Drew- only the second time this writer ever voted for a Democrat (Grossman insulted me personally in response to a newspaper editorial I penned and comments I made on his radio show). He had other baggage that sunk his campaign. All eventually ended well since Van Drew switched parties and won reelection in 2020 as a Republican. Incidentally, in response to a query letter I submitted to Van Drew, he- not some staffer- responded within two days with a phone call, e-mail, and personal letter which he signed (I know, I smudged the ink).
That kind of person- not one who dons the rhetorical red MAGA cap or hitches their wagon to some incarnation of a Trump wannabe- is what can win an election for governor as a Republican in New Jersey. In fact, adopting a “Make New Jersey Just OK Again” slogan may be a winning proposition.
Regardless, it is New Jersey and to win you have to appeal to the base of the population which exists in the northern part of the state. Although there are clearly conservative Republican bastions- Ocean and Cape May counties in particular- even a large swath of the central part of the state is populated by rich, white liberals (many with ties to the pharmaceutical industry) who think and act like Manhattan liberals.
As for Murphy, he has become a master of the virtue signal which appeals to those low-information (i.e., dumb Democrat lemmings) voters in the populated stretches of northern New Jersey. He gets a pass on his handling of the Covid pandemic which is on par with that of the Master Nursing Home Killer, Andrew Cuomo in neighboring New York. Additionally, Murphy is gratuitously wealthy, having accumulated a small fortune after 23 years at Goldman-Sachs. These voters that will likely send him back to Trenton for another four years are ignorant of the fact that his and Democrat policies are sending businesses, revenue and population out of the state. New Jersey would be lucky to keep a Congressional seat after the Census is all said and done.
With the flight of businesses due to overtaxation and over-regulation, the only sources of revenue left fall heavily on the backs and paychecks of the working class and, especially New Jersey homeowners who experience some of the most egregious property tax schemes in the country. The state ranks sixth highest in state income tax, third highest in business taxes, and it holds the honor of having the highest property taxes in the country. Throw in a sales tax and all the fees to get a business license, driver’s license, car registration, etc., and you get the picture. Hell- to become a substitute teacher in New Jersey requires over $200 in fees and charges (seriously- $60 to get fingerprinted every five years when your fingerprints are on file already?). Now the real “funny” part: New Jersey holds the crown for the most debt among the 50 states. At this point, just dropping to #4 would be considered a monumental achievement.
If the GOP ever hopes to win a gubernatorial election in the state, they have to motivate the working class through messaging (currently non-existent) and the right candidate (currently non-existent) and send a message that enough is enough. Unfortunately, I do not see that critical mass being reached anytime soon.