2019 Campaign Winners and Losers- Including One Surprise Winner (Murphy) 

Major Winner of Election Night: Chris Russell. 

The wunderkind of New Jersey politics, once again Chris Russell proved that he is the top GOP political consultant in New Jersey.  He was the chief strategist in the decisive upset GOP victories in the First and Eighth Legislative Districts, despite being vastly outspent by the Democrats.  On the local side, he scored two significant victories in Old Bridge and Parsippany.  Can Chris bring home a winning NJGOP gubernatorial candidate with Jack Ciattarelli in 2021? 

Major Upset Winners: Jon Bramnick and Nancy Munoz 

Virtually every pundit, including myself, had predicted that Jon Bramnick and Nancy Munoz would lose.  My exact quote: “Bramnick and Munoz have served with distinction in the Assembly, but in 2019, they have been hit with the perfect storm.”  What doesn’t kill you in politics makes you stronger, and the fact that that Bramnick and Munoz survived the perfect storm substantially boosts Bramnick’s stature as Assembly Republican Leader and Munoz’s eminence on health care issues. 

The Muhammad Ali Award – Mike Testa, Jr. 

Howard Cosell once said that every sports writer tends to fall in love with a fighter.  He fell in love with Floyd Patterson and Muhammad Ali.  That happens with political writers, too, and that’s what happened with me regarding Mike Testa, Jr. 

Before entering the ring with Sonny Liston on February 25, 1964, Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, said to Howard Cosell, “I’m going to shock the world tonight!”   Yesterday afternoon, I received a text message from Mike Testa saying, “I predict we will shock the world!”  He sure did shock the New Jersey political world, carrying his Assembly running mates Erik Simonsen and Antwan McClellan in victory across the finish line with him.  At long last, South Jersey Republicans have a charismatic leader in Mike Testa.  He is only 43, and a decade from now, look for his name to be mentioned as a gubernatorial candidate. 

Major Non-Candidate Winner of the Night:  Tom Kean, Jr. 

As Senate Republican Leader, Kean played a major role in the victory of the NJGOP’s most prominent other junior, Mike Testa, Jr.  Furthermore, his 2020 Congressional opponent, incumbent Democrat Tom Malinowski was badly rebuffed in his campaign efforts to oust Bramnick-Munoz in LD 21 and Bucco-Bergen in LD 25.    The Congressional fundraising efforts of Kean, Jr. should skyrocket in the aftermath of election night. 

Assembly GOP All-Star Winners:  Ryan Peters and Jean Stanfield 

In the wake of their Eighth District Assembly upset victory over the armies of George Norcross and Steve Sweeney, Ryan Peters and Jean Stanfield are stars in the Trenton firmament.   

Look for Peters to take on Democratic GOP – expatriate Dawn Adieggo for the District Senate seat in 2021.  As for Stanfield, at a time when the NJGOP brand among women is toxic, she is manna from heaven for the Republicans – a woman with an outstanding record of public service who is not damaged with the Trump brand and who can be successful with GOP outreach to South Jersey women who have not irrevocably rejected the Republican brand. 

Winner of the Pole Position for the 2021 Republican Gubernatorial Primary: Jack Ciattarelli. 

Wherever there was a significant legislative or municipal race in 2019, Jack was there.  He is a born campaigner (and golfer in the Ike GOP tradition), and he was the most sought-after guest speaker for GOP campaigns throughout the state.  He now has a solid grass roots network and continues to have the front runner status.  Supporters of NJGOP chair Doug Steinhardt for governor make the case for him. There is one major difference, however.  Jack is eminently electable.  Doug Steinhardt, with his total identification with Donald Trump, is not. 

Major Losers of the Night:  George Norcross and Steve Sweeney.   

In the Talmud, it says,” Tofasta Meruba Lo Tofasta” – if you grab too much, you get nothing.   

George Norcross and Steve Sweeney ignored this Talmudic maxim when they made an all-out effort to vanquish Mike Testa and his Assembly running mates in District 1 and Assembly GOP incumbent Ryan Peters and Jean Stanfield in District 8.  They failed miserably, and now; they have no hope whatsoever of mounting a credible primary challenge to Phil Murphy in 2021.  

Finally, the successful Insurgent Progressive Democrat victory in the 2019 Democratic County Committee seat primary in Collingswood, Camden County should serve as a warning to both Norcross and Sweeney: In the forthcoming ideological Democratic brushfire revolts in South Jersey between Progressives against the Center-Left Democratic establishments, which loom on the horizon, the financial resources of the Norcross/Sweeney alliance will not guarantee them victory.  

First Time Loser:  Congressman Tom Malinowski 

As mentioned above, his campaign efforts on behalf of Democrats in Legislative Districts 21 and 25 were an abject failure.  Cable television appearances on the Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell shows do not achieve success for you at home, Tom.  

The Westbrook Pegler Award for Right Wing Journalistic Sophistry: Paul Mulshine 

When Donald Trump said he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and his supporters wouldn’t care, he was obviously referring to Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine, who suffers from TSDS (Trump Self-Delusion Syndrome).  

His adulation of Trump reached new heights of absurdity, however, when he wrote the ludicrous column for the Star-Ledger on election day, “Bedtime for Bramnick?  Conservative spoilers target a never-Trumper in election.” (https://www.nj.com/opinion/2019/11/bedtime-for-bramnick-conservative-spoilers-target-a-never-trumper-in-election-mulshine.html ). The column insinuated that Bramnick would lose because he was insufficiently supportive of Trump.  This piece should be read for its entertainment value – it is more laughable than pictures of Chris Christie in his beach chair. 

Paul Mulshine is no William F. Buckley, Jr.  But the way Mulshine defines conservatism to fit his own political agenda, he would probably say that Buckley, who despised Trump and described him as a narcissist, was no conservative. 

Surprise Winner Selection:  Phil Murphy 

The conventional wisdom on State Street, Trenton, for the most part, defines Phil Murphy as neither an election day winner nor a loser   I depart from this conventional wisdom, as I often do, and I assess Murphy as an election day winner, for a number of reasons. 

First and foremost, as stated above, due to the major Norcross-Sweeney defeats, Murphy no longer faces the possibility of a credible primary election opposition. 

Second, the midterm Democratic net loss of the one Senate and two Assembly seats is absolutely minimal by historical standards.  The norm for the midterm Assembly loss for the party in control of the Governor’s Office is much higher, often in double digits. 

Third, the Democratic victories in the Somerset County freeholder and sheriff races extend the Democratic control in what was once a deep red Republican county. 

Fourth is the emergence of the possibility that the GOP may nominate their state chair, Trump devotee Doug Steinhardt as their gubernatorial candidate. Trump toxicity will render a Steinhardt victory impossible, and Phil and Tammy Murphy could take a two-month vacation beginning in September, 2021. On the other hand, against Jack Ciattarelli, Murphy will have a real dogfight on his hands. 

And for me, as a journalist with a penchant for making boxing analogies to political campaigns, a Murphy-Ciattarelli campaign would be just delightful, given Murphy’s status as an Irish-American and Ciattarelli’s as an Italian-American.  Boxing history is replete with examples of great Irish-American and Italian American fighters, and the analogy possibilities are limitless and exciting. 

How’s this for a start:  Mickey “the Toy Bulldog” Walker (Irish) versus Joey Giardello (Italian)?  And like Ciattarelli, Giardello, whose real name was Carmen Tilelli was actually a Republican who once upon a time became involved in Cherry Hill politics! 

Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. 

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