NEW BRUNSWICK – Phil Murphy is ahead in the polls, but for some, just winning is not enough.
Bernie Sanders, who hosted a raucous rally for Murphy Thursday night, wants more than that.
He wants a landslide for a man he called probably the most progressive governor in the nation.
“Let’s tell the right wing Republicans their day is over in New Jersey,” Sanders said.
Sanders is the darling of the Democratic party’s left wing and college students are very much his audience.
That was clear tonight as Sanders arrived on the Rutgers University campus in the midst of ongoing negotiations in Washington on the major legislative proposals of the Biden presidency.
Murphy said Sanders’ presence showed how important New Jersey is.
His presence also showed his popularity in some quarters of the party. The rally took place under a tent in the middle of campus that organizers said could accommodate 1,300 people. It was almost filled.
The governor through no real fault of his own was very much an afterthought.
Sure, he tried to ingratiate himself with the students by predicting a Rutgers win in Saturday’s football game against Illinois and by reminding them – twice, in fact – that his administration “legalized weed.”
All well and good, but this was a Bernie crowd.
The first sustained chant of “Bernie, Bernie,” erupted an hour or so before the Vermont senator arrived.
The preliminary, or warm-up, speakers, were not local politicians as is normally the case at such events, but campus progressive leaders. Obviously, someone realized this wasn’t the place for a guy running for county commissioner.
When Sanders eventually was introduced by Murphy and took the stage, he first implored the crowd to vote. He said that’s more important than usual given the fact that turnout this year won’t be as good as last year’s presidential race.
That gave him a chance to praise Murphy. Relating how GOP states are trying to restrict voting rights, Sanders said, “Governor Murphy is setting an example by saying in a democracy, you make it easier to vote, not harder.”
Sanders also ticked off a series of issues on which he and Murphy stand side-by-side.
They included abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, equal pay for equal work and dealing with climate change.
Sanders knows college students are some of his biggest fans, but he also knows many young people are apathetic or cynical about politics. He challenged his audience not to let the complainers bother them, but to tell them that the issues of today will determine their future.
The psyched-up crowd made for a fun evening, but if you stepped back, there was a surreal quality to it all.
Here was a proclaimed socialist campaigning to help reelect the governor of New Jersey.
There was a time – not really all that long ago – when a governor would fear such a thing, thinking it would scare away moderates.
With the parties polarized into two distant corners, all that matters now is turning out the vote.
And Bernie has plenty of voters to turn out. Just ask the hundreds of students who waited in line Thursday night to see him.