There are two predominant messages from the Monmouth Poll on the New Jersey gubernatorial race over the past two days, one demographic and the other regarding campaign issues.
The demographic message is that the double-digit lead of Democratic Governor Phil Murphy over Republican Jack Ciattarelli is insurmountable, due to the fact that the governor has the support of 90 percent of the Democratic voters, the largest political bloc in the state.
The issues message is that on the Coronavirus Pandemic, the issue of most concern to the voters, Phil Murphy has overwhelming approval from the electorate.
Now these two messages in themselves augur a landslide Murphy victory. There are, however, two other factors in play that portend a disastrous finale for the Ciattarelli campaign.
The first is that the Monmouth Poll results will make it virtually impossible for Ciattarelli to raise money from out-of-state Republican sources.
The second is a growing crisis of credibility in the Ciattarelli campaign, due to 1) the implausible claims of Ciattarelli that he did not know that he was speaking at a Stop-the-Steal rally last November 28; and 2) the unprecedented and most indecorous attempts by the Ciattarelli campaign, including the candidate, staff, and Republican State Committee associates to discredit the integrity and competency of both the Monmouth Poll and its Director, Patrick Murray.
Each of these four factors, namely the two messages, fundraising impact, and crisis of credibility, which together presage a humiliating denouement for the Ciattarelli-Allen campaign, warrant further examination.
The Demographic Message
In his commentary on the Murphy-Ciattarelli head-to-head race, Patrick Murray accurately notes that Trump himself does not appear to be a driving factor for where this race stands right now. At the same time, the poll crosstabs show that a sizable majority of New Jerseyans (65%) view agreement with the Trump Republican wing as a negative.
The Murphy campaign commercial tying Ciattarelli with Trump began running on September 15, the day before the Monmouth Poll survey began (September 16). The longer the Murphy anti-Trump commercial runs, the more indelible the Ciattarelli-Trump connection will be in the minds of Democratic voters, making it virtually impossible for Ciattarelli to dislodge them from their loyalty to Phil Murphy.
There are currently one million more registered Democrats than Republicans in New Jersey. As long as Phil Murphy continues to attract the support of 90 percent of New Jersey Democratic voters, it is numerically virtually impossible for Jack Ciattarelli to win.
The Covid Message
The Covid message from the Monmouth Poll was as devastating to the Ciattarelli campaign as the continuation of Murphy’s double-digit lead.
In the Monmouth Poll, Murphy has attained a remarkable 62 percent approval for his handling of the Pandemic, despite a majority feeling his administration bears at least some responsibility for the pain experienced by small businesses and the number of Covid deaths in nursing homes in the state.
Ciattarelli’s prime issue strategy on the Covid issue was to discredit Murphy’s handling of the Pandemic based upon the small business and nursing home aspects. The Monmouth Poll results revealed the abject failure of this strategy.
One note of particular significance in the poll was the widespread approval of Murphy’s face mask and social distance guidelines (61 percent). This suggests another serious Ciattarelli campaign misjudgment: his use of what I described in my column of September 6, 2021 as the “seven words” (“Children are not vulnerable to this virus”). He used these words in connection with his foolhardy disparagement of the need for children to wear masks.
The Monmouth Poll’s Impact on Ciattarelli’s Fundraising
Every four years in the year following the presidential election, New Jersey and Virginia are the only states holding races for Governor. During the month before the election, major out-of-state donors in both political parties, including both individuals and PACs decide whether to donate to the gubernatorial campaigns of their party in one or both states.
Last Monday, I authored a column on the surge of Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin in his campaign against the Democratic nominee, former Governor Terry McAuliffe. Youngkin’s surge has placed him in a dead heat with McAuliffe.
Meanwhile, the Monmouth Poll results show the Ciattarelli campaign to be in moribund condition. Out-of-state GOP contributors regard themselves as investors, and they are far more likely to invest in a Youngkin campaign with a substantial prospect of success than a Ciattarelli campaign shown by the Monmouth Poll to be facing the prospect of a catastrophic defeat.
The Youngkin campaign has another selling point. The consultant to the Youngkin campaign is Jeff Roe, the most highly regarded GOP consultant in America since the days of Karl Rove.
And Republican national leaders are looking at the Youngkin campaign with keen interest. The 2024 Republican presidential campaign will have a major focus on flipping blue states with a purple tinge like Virginia into the Republican column. The Youngkin campaign is the testing ground of that strategy.
There will be a major quantity of out-of-state GOP contributions to the Youngkin campaign over the month of October. I expect that the amount of such out-of-state contributions to the Ciattarelli campaign to be virtually zero. And the Ciattarelli campaign will be badly in need of such funds in October in order to remain competitive with Murphy both in television and Get-Out the-Vote efforts.
The Ciattarelli Crisis of Credibility
Jack Ciattarelli developed a rapidly growing credibility problem with his patently unbelievable denials of knowledge of the Stop-the-Steal purpose of the November 28 rally at which he spoke. I wrote extensively about this in the following InsiderNJ column.
Now the Ciattarelli campaign has attempted to discredit the Monmouth Poll and Patrick Murray by distributing memos on polls conducted by two Trumpist pollsters, neither of whom enjoys the national reputation of the Monmouth Poll or Murray. The Trumpist polls both show the race to be a virtual dead heat.
The journalist who has demolished the Ciattarelli anti-Monmouth Poll initiative is Politico’s Matt Friedman in his daily Politico New Jersey Newsletter. The following two Friedman newsletters from last week thoroughly rebutted the Ciattarelli campaign attack on Monmouth/Murray. Case closed.
When a trailing campaign goes into October with a major credibility problem, its comeback chances are minimal. When added to the demographic and issue problems with which the Ciattarelli campaign is beset, it has no path to a comeback victory. The only hope for a Ciattarelli upset would be a major catastrophic scandal in the Murphy administration. That is indeed a forlorn hope.
There is present, in my view, in the case of Jack Ciattarelli a certain amount of political tragedy.
The Jack Ciattarelli I knew in Campaign 2017 had the strength of character of a lion and the shrewdness of a fox. When such a lion and fox is consumed by personal ambition, however, he will make the misjudgments of an ass, as did Ciattarelli with his seven Covid words and his campaign’s attack on Monmouth/Murray.
The serious political misjudgments of Ciattarelli are reminiscent of the words of the famous French diplomat, Talleyrand, who was one of the great political survivors of French history. In describing a certain governmental error, he said “It was worse than a crime – it was a blunder. “And the Ciattarelli 2021 campaign is replete with such blunders.
Accordingly, on Election Night 2021, I expect that we will get a projection of a Murphy victory by 8:09 pm. We will have to wait until early Wednesday morning to see if Terry McAuliffe will join with Phil Murphy as the two governors most being mentioned in connection with the 2024 and 2028 Democratic presidential sweepstakes.
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.