ASBURY PARK – As a rainstorm beat the pavement outside, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez made his way through the crowd of 500 people and climbed up on the stage in the local VFW hall and threw his weight behind Democrats in LD11: state senate candidate Vin Gopal and his running mates, Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling and Assemblywoman Joann Downey.
“Our mission is to elect [a Democrat] to the state senate in district 11,” said Perez, with Gopal visible at the far end of the stage and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, New Jersey Democratic Chairman John Currie, Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter and Downey and Houghtaling in the wings.
After appearing in Newark earlier today with Mayor Ras Baraka, Perez and Ellison swung through here with the
intention of putting their national-sized fingerprints on the battleground district, where incumbent state Senator Jen Beck (R-11) hopes to fend off Gopal, a former Monmouth County Democratic chairman. Having survived a brutal backroom fight to lead the party, with Perez, a former Labor Secretary, coming out on the winning end over the people-power branded Minnesota Congressman, the pair appeared here on a leg of their national unity tour.
“You will elect a Democrat,” Perez, referring to this year’s gubernatorial contest, told an animated crowd. “Let’s continue the unity.”
Ellison sounded a similar theme in his remarks.
“We have got to come together,” he said. “We need to be unified. Our unity is going to allow us to win.”
It seemed somewhat of an odd message for the start of primary season. Perhaps it was a case of extreme confidence in establishment-backed Phil Murphy, Currie’s choice to succeed Governor Chris Christie.
Murphy faces opposition, including Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19) and former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Department Jim Johnson.
InsiderNJ later asked Perez if he isn’t discounting the merits of a party primary.
He said that wasn’t his point at all.
“Primaries can be very constructive experiences,” said the national chairman. “I welcome these sorts of things. You build infrastructure. I’ve found myself more concerned when you have no primary at all. A candidate gets lazy or hoards money or doesn’t do do grassroots stuff.
“I welcome contested primaries,” he added. “Those things that are spirited and fair.”
Perez’s presence here indicated national Democrats’ awareness of New Jersey as an early opportunity to push back against President Donald J. Trump.
“Democrats have a tremendous opportunity because Republicans are overreaching,” he said. “What Governor Christie did here is something you would see in kangaroo country; just a remarkable display of arrogance. Breathtaking. I think there’s a lot of passion out there and the goal is to translate that passion to races. The challenge is to channel that energy to volunteers. That is the formula for success. We need to stay engaged in the campaign and engaged in this electoral cycle. We need to elect governors; we already have a strong party in New jersey and we need to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves.”
InsiderNJ asked Perez about specific congressional seats here in the Garden State where Democrats can take advantage of what he says is the GOP’s overreach.
“There are some opportunities in congressional districts here,” the national chairman said. “There are seats where you can ride a wave. If you don’t have people on the surf board you just never know; this wave is going to spread, so it’s good for Democrats to take on Republicans everywhere. This is a case of Donald Trump and the Republican Party overreaching, and the overreach is palpable. The BS about protesters being paid or organized, if you want to believe that one then God bless you. This is about people knowing that Donald Trump will take away their lifeline through Medicaid. The overreach is breathtaking. They believe their own lies. They don’t believe in government.”
President Richard Nixon approved food stamps, he said, and President Ronald Reagan expanded protections for immigrants because the 1986 Immigration Act didn’t go far enough.
“Republicans have Ronald Reagan on a pedestal and they don’t Ronald Reagan’s record,” Perez said.
As Democrats consider presidential prospects to take on Trump in 2020, U.S. Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey routinely enters the conversation, and asked about Booker Perez said, “Cory Booker is a great champion of the issues. That field will develop. One thing I learned is that as the field develops, the job of the national chair is to ensure a level playing field for the candidates and to stay neutral.”
- Asbury Park
- Chris Christie
- Cory Booker
- Donald Trump
- Eric Houghtaling
- Jen Beck
- Jim Johnson
- Joann Downey
- John Currie
- John Wisniewski
- Keith Ellison
- New Jersey Democratic Party
- Phil Murphy
- Ras Baraka
- Richard Nixon
- Ronald Reagan
- Shavonda Sumter
- Tom Perez
- Vin Gopal
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