Dangerzone: GOP Reintrenches with Greater Attention to the Prospect of Down Ballot Casualties

It was bad and evil and appalling – all the things you associate with the worst ravages of a savage political primary; and yet, those sides in the frayed and fractured GOP came together with a table between them earlier today to try to figure out how to move forward as – and yes, it was tough to say it but necessary – a team.

On one side of that table sat Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, the Republican nominee for governor.

On the other sat Burlington County GOP Chairman Bill Layton, who forcefully backed Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-16) in the Republican Primary.

How can we do this? was the operative idea behind the meeting. How can we make nice and have a coordinated effort to prevent more bloodletting?

More bloodletting.

It seemed a running theme in the once proud GOP, for at the zenith of Chris Christie’s power, that party had the Democrats in retreat, following up on 2009 gains by the Republican candidate for governor with a 2010 win in CD3 and a concussive win in Bergen County, where Republican Kathe Donovan and her running mates deposed the longstanding Democratic incumbents. Christie maintained his onslaught, mowing through a 2013 sacrificial lamb challenger and bringing cowed Democrats to heel, basically until Bridgegate, at which point the seesaw began dangerously slamming back in the other direction, leading all the way up to right now.

For the governor’s detractors and that latest feverish fold-in of anti Trump-ites who see the entirety of that concept otherwise known as GOP egocentrism up for a good hiding this cycle, 2017 represents – at its best – a denouement; a final chance for humiliated Democrats to repudiate the man who snapped his fingers and made them – with a few exceptions – jump to attention.

They see good polling numbers in their war rooms.

LD14 was competitive once. Pre Christie it was that bellwether district where a Republican or Democrat could win.

No more.

Most sources in both parties see it as a solid Democratic win.


Once it was fair game country.

Now it’s a Dem lock.

So is LD38.

Although the GOP appears well positioned to pick up a senate seat in LD2 (owing to the retirement of a reliable Democratic brand name, more than anything), and will – with the help of Democratic Party juggernaut the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) – give Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) fits in LD3, the most robust action this year centers on areas of Republican control where Democrats see opportunity.

The main areas?

LD11, where former Monmouth County Democratic Chairman Vin Gopal is in a pick ’em race against incumbent state Senator Jennifer Beck (R-11).

LD7, where the retirement of veteran state Senator Diane Allen (R-7) prompts the elevation of Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-7) to offset the loss of state Senator Jim Whelan (D-2) and maintain the Democrats’ 24-16 dominance over their Republican rivals in the upper chamber.

LD16, where Democratic leadership’s decision to look the other way and not challenge state Senator Kip Bateman (R-16) with a fire-breathing alternative seems to hardly make Bateman want to rest easy. “[Assemblyman Andrew] Zwicker was dumb not to challenge Bateman,” a GOP source told InsiderNJ, looking up from polling that shows tightness in those places where the GOP could go slack in years past, including LD16.

The GOP’s troubles here are well documented, most of the wreckage a consequence of Christie fatigue.

As he leaves office, the governor finds himself mired with a job approval rating under 20%. Some would-be competitive districts show him polling as low as 16%.

He appears to be fighting with his would-be successor, Guadagno, who on the trail tells crowds based on Adam Geller polling that she is in a close contest for governor against another tax-hiking Goldman Sachs candidate, her words. But whatever troubles Phil Murphy has as a general election contender – and there is increasing hand rubbing among Republicans who see Murphy as too far left to excite independents – don’t add up to the very discernible organizational troubles of the Republican Party left in the aftermath of Christie, whose allies have shown a willingness to roll over and let Murphy take over sooner than support Guadagno.

Boss of a county that usually goes Democrat in presidential years, Layton doesn’t want down ballot insanity. At the very least, he wants to see some sign of life out there and more punches in bunches unleashed from Guadagno at a Democratic gubernatorial candidate he sees as hardly unbeatable.

When he sat down with the Republican nominee to hear her out and put to rest all the fierce verbal fist-fighting of the primary season, he did so motivated by an overriding sense of self-preservation.

If the polling that shows Murphy up by nearly 30 points over Guadagno is correct, Layton knows there could be BurlCo trouble.

He could have a problem in places that were never problematic.

Guadagno continues to tell people that she sees a close race; that Geller – not the other professional pollsters who miscalled the presidential contest last year – has it right. Her GOP brethren are skeptical, just as Democrats salivate with the aftertaste of Trump’s repeated stumbles on race. But if the LG can hammer away at the tax issue, sources said Tuesday, she may have a shot – at helping to prevent absolute down ballot bedlam in key areas, which were once solidly Republican.

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