Does Christie Slide Presage GOP Retreat in New Jersey?

The morning after election night  pundits fixated on Virginia where the Democratic candidate Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam  bested his GOP opponent, Ed Gillespie as the bellwether contest. There was an inference that in New Jersey Phil Murphy’s victory for Governor was merely returning the state to its inherent blueness, after a GOP aberration with the election of Governor Chris Christie in 2009. 

Nothing to see here.

And yet this election, down ballot, here in the Garden State, there were signs of something seismic bubbling up from the grass roots. According to the Star Ledger, after eight years of Governor Christie’s smashmouth politics, 196 municipalities went from the Republican column to Mr. Murphy’s Democratic line. Perhaps, Governor Christie’s yeoman efforts to put Donald Trump in the White House, after his own bid imploded, also had something to do with the wholesale rejection of the GOP brand by so many municipalities that just four years ago gave Christie such a resounding victory.

It is hard to fathom how the same Governor, who in the immediate aftermath of Sandy, was such a healer, could let himself so easily devolve into a nasty sarcastic shouting match with a passerby outside his local polling place on the last election of his tenure in office. Gone in that Mendham Township encounter, that went viral, was any semblance of Christie, the humble public servant, happy for the privilege to serve the people. What was clear is that he felt put upon and a bit peeved that the high opinion he had of himself was not more broadly shared by the unwashed masses, even in his own hometown where for years he was the favorite son.

The rise of Christie was so promising. In his several years as US Attorney he had burnished a reputation as a prosecutor that would go after corruption, whether it meant prosecuting Republicans or Democrats. His signature town halls were refreshing in that if you were brave enough, and could take the blow back, you could confront the Governor directly. 

But when Governor Christie reneged on his pledge to make the pension payments he had promised to make, after the public unions had made concessions, like raising the retirement system and paying  more for their benefits, he zeroed out the most relevant resume item he could have offered the nation.  And so, from his killing the rail tunnel, to Bridgegate, so much of the Christie tenure was about either destroying his opponents, or building up his brand. Lost in the sauce of his unbridled ambition, the actual circumstance of the people of the state he swore to serve. 

But the flame out of this incarnation of Gov. Christie is only the tip of a sliding glacial plate.   

For over a century Morris County has been Republican to its core.  In 1964, it went for President Johnson. In 1912, New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, carried Morris with just 40 percent of the vote thanks to the robust third party challenge from former President Theodore Roosevelt who garnered 36 percent. 

Back in 1984 Vice President Walter Mondale only won 28 percent of Morris County votes when he faced President Ronald Reagan. In the several Presidential cycles since the Democrats have managed to do better than that, with former Secretary of Secretary of State Clinton getting 46 percent county wide. In the county’s  25th legislative district, Clinton actually bested Trump by dozens of votes.  

39 of the 85 Democrats affiliated with the NJ 11th For Change group,  dedicated to retiring the district’s twelve term Republican Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, won their bid for local office last week. One of them was  Amalia Duarte, a Democrat, who won a seat on the Mendham Township Committee, Gov. Christie hometown.  Duarte’s win, was perhaps a first for Democrats in a community where for decades the only contests were internal GOP affairs resolved by a primary.

No fewer than five Democrats are vying for the opportunity to take on Congressman Frelinghuysen. New Jersey maybe blue, but it could be on the verge of becoming  a much deeper blue.

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