One of Jack Ciattarelli’s signature campaign lines is that Phil Murphy wants to turn New Jersey into the “California of the east.”
This is intended to produce horrified gasps and boos from Republicans and it never fails to prompt just that.
But there’s an underlying irony here that may mean trouble for “Jack and Diane.”
Let’s take a look at the just-concluded California recall election.
From mid-July to around mid-August, polls showed that Gov. Gavin Newsom was in a battle for his political life. Four polls showed his lead in the recall election was in the low single digits. One poll actually had Newsom losing, or in other words, being voted out of office.
Put them together and this was a remarkable possibility in a state as “deep blue” as California.
Democrats woke up. Various political “rock stars” on the Democratic side of the ledger appeared at rallies, not to convince followers to back Newsom, but to care enough to vote.
By the end of August, Newsom’s lead was double digits and when the vote came in mid-September, he won by more than 20 points.
Back east in New Jersey, the last non-partisan poll had Murphy up by 9 points, a tad lower than earlier polls.
Team Murphy may think that’s not good enough, or perhaps internal polls show a tighter race.
So, whether by design or coincidence, the “California model” is now on display.
National Democratic leaders are discovering the great Garden State.
Amy Klobuchar was in Bergen County about 10 days ago to rev up Democratic campaign workers.
Jill Biden was at a rally last week in Edison and Barack Obama is expected on Saturday in Newark.
Republicans can sneer at this and say things like, “Murphy must be really scared.”
That’s to be expected, but it obscures a significant point.
Visits by Democratic luminaries are not designed to change anyone’s mind; they’re designed to encourage voting by Democrats who are not – as of yet – all that enthusiastic.
With that in mind, it’s no accident Obama’s visit is set for the first day of early voting.
This is very important for one simple reason and Murphy said it the other day.
“Our team is bigger than their team.”
And it’s gotten bigger.
It’s worth noting that in 2009, the last time a Republican ousted an incumbent Democratic governor, Dems had a voter registration advantage of around 700,000.
Now the spread is almost 1.1 million. Some 400,000 more is a huge difference.
If Democrats vote in reasonable numbers, Murphy wins.
That’s what happened in California.
So, in more ways than one, Ciattarelli has to hope New Jersey is not California.