ASBURY PARK – The ocean slaps the shoreline here like an ornery masseuse working the flab of a late, untended middle aged body, kneading and re-kneading a tired, bullied beachhead, which never pulls itself into an upright position and merely sustains the beating, a condition which vaguely resembles the stagnation of most NJ legislative districts with the exception, certainly, of this one: the battleground LD11.
This is the hard scene of that much-watched tilt featuring state Senator Jennifer Beck (R-11) of Red Bank against former Monmouth County Democratic Chairman and Long Branch businessman Vin Gopal, who both turned out today among thatwave of groups and individuals declaring opposition to the racist Klan hate on display last month in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Beck stood onstage with the other elected officials.
Gopal stood at the edge of the stage in the crowd.
“It’s great to see everyone united,” he said.
Then both competitors brandished fangs in face to face political encounters with InsiderNJ.
Sources say it’s a pick ’em race, with the well-funded and charismatic Gopal relying on over a decades’ worth of political relationships built statewide, while Beck hopes to stem what appears to be some top of the ticket Democratic Party momentum by reminding voters of what she celebrates as a fierce independent streak. Amid the would-be ravages of a Republican Party caught trying to juggle the hot potato personalities of President Donald J. Trump and lame-duck Governor Chris Christie, Beck has tried to stick a bold under line against her own record. Asked to illustrate how she significantly bucked Christie over the course of eight years, she ticked off issues like fracking, marriage equality, Christie’s coveted book deal, and the gas tax. But she knows Gopal’s allies will shovel big dollars into the district to tether her to Christie and relieve her of duty. “I think you’ll see it this week with the multiple millions at their disposal,” Beck told InsiderNJ as she awaited introduction onstage at the rally. “I’d be very surprised if you don’t see mail and TV. I’m just taking the message to the voters – sometimes even one-on-one. I think that’s a lot more valuable than glossy mail.”
A source today said state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-21) won’t have too many theaters in which to try to defend his already-reduced, 16-member caucus this season, however, and disputes Beck’s efforts to portray herself as vastly outgunned. “Kean will have two places to play: LD2 and LD11,” the source said. “So he’ll make sure Beck gets funded. Where else is going to spend the money?” For his part, Gopal has made a habit of burnishing fundraising help from all corners of New Jersey.
Beck highlights one relationship, though, that she argues will prove fatal if Monmouth voters back Gopal.
The senator possesses what she sees as the advantage of being able to make the case that an empowered Gopal simply means awarding another set of teeth to the already razored up South Jersey Democratic Party headed by the tag team of Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and Pooh-bah George Norcross III. “There’s no question my opponent will be funded by the Camden County machine, which means his interests won’t be Monmouth County but Camden County,” Beck said. “His vote will be bought and paid for by Camden. He won’t be independent. He will make decisions that are in the best interest of South Jersey.”
Gopal took the criticism in stride. His allies point out that the group that coalesced today against hate rose out of the anti-Trump movement, a recent national-sized development assisted locally by the work Gopal did as chair, when he helped unify Asbury Park, meticulously over time pulling together warring factions to form a strong foundation now in time for his senate run.
He punched back hard against Beck, repeatedly noting what he said was her assistance and/or silence throughout Christie’s two tours of duty as governor.
“Senator Beck has been in elected office for 18 years and it’s easy to buck Chris Christie five percent of the time,” said the senator rival. “She didn’t buck him on the ARC Tunnel. She co chaired his presidential campaign. She didn’t buck him on women’s health, on pay equity, on background checks. She had hundreds and hundreds of times to buck him and didn’t, which is why the League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club back me. For eight years she did what Christie wanted. She’s supporting his LG for governor. Where was she when the taxpayers paid millions for Christie’s decision to schedule a special election for senate? Where was she during Bridgegate?
“I think Senator Beck’s a nice person,” Gopal added, “but she hasn’t been effective. Property taxes are going up as we continue to sustain credit downgrades, and she stood by this governor. People have to judge this as follows: I think Phil Murphy will be a great governor, but if he is not doing what is in the best interest of Monmouth County, I’m going to work against him.”
The Democratic challenger said he believes Beck has an obsession with Camden County.
“But she should look – anybody should look – and note that less than five percent of the $500,000 we raised has come from Camden County,” Gopal said. “It’s a very weak argument. We’ve raised money from all over the state. Look, [Assemblyman] Declan O’Scanlon wrote the gas tax, and she and Declan share a chief of staff, who worked on it, and she says she opposed it. During a ‘gas tax’ Republican Primary between O’Scanlon and [Assemblywoman] Amy Handlin, she supported O’Scanlon, and Declan rewarded her with a donation after that. She’s nice, but not effective. I’ve knocked on almost 5,000 doors in this campaign so far. People are moving. People are tired of this state. They’re tired of the politics. We haven’t taken advantage of the high tech ops, even as she supported Chris Christie getting our state out of RGGI [Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative]. There’s a reason Murphy’s up by 3o points. People tired of the credit downgrades. Chris Christie is a disaster. Why did she support him for president? Where was the real leadership? This is the only woman in the senate to vote against pay equity. She’s a nice person, There’s just nothing positive in eight years, and I would love to have residents give me the opportunity to serve in the senate.”