Election 2017 Where Things are RIGHT NOW: The Implications of Prieto v. Coughlin

They hate each other, the Democratic Party warring factions belonging to Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) and Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-19) (otherwise known as the guy who stood with South Jersey once and the guy who stands with South Jersey now). But the diner booth war between the two, with Prieto nest egging LD25 and LD39 (and maybe LD40) in hopes of hatching a majority in the caucus and retaining his assembly seat (he’d need some help for that, including re-upping commitments from the likes of Assemblyman John McKeon, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey and Assemblyman Ralph Caputo and Assemblywoman Cleo Tucker); and Coughlin allies shoveling money into committed Coughlin backers in LD2, LD11 and LD16, has the GOP trying to fortify against a multi-fronted onslaught.

The Republican incumbents in LD39 are in shock right now, as Prieto – motivated by dreadful polling on Governor Chris Christie and President Donald J. Trump – continues to lay on a heavy barrage. Motivated by self-preservation, sticking it to Coughlin and former DACC Executive Director Mike Muller, and finding a willing Bergen Democratic organization that wants to clip Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-39) before she can (possibly) run for county executive next year, the speaker campaigned in the Bergen-based district this past weekend. The mail war early seems geared toward Schepisi, but incumbent Assemblyman Bob Auth (R-39) also looks vulnerable, a GOP source feared.

“They want total control, and they have the money to spend, that’s politics 101,” said Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21), who’s fortifying himself in his district with the knowledge that Democrats in Union County look energized in towns the GOP ordinarily has on lockdown.

Alert to the labor muscle under the leadership-balkanized Dems, Bramnick has already sent out five mailers (including the one pictured, above) reminding voters of his service, and he intends to spend what he needs to (it could prove as much as a quarter million) in order to ensure reelection in choppy GOP weather.

As for Muller, who’s glued to Coughlin, much of the effort appears geared toward ensuring the reelection success of Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-2) and picking up a second assembly seat in LD2, in addition to (at least) getting Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-16) and Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling (D-11) and Joann Downey (D-11) back in office.  Those are all votes in the bank for Coughlin’s speakership.

While Prieto and Coughlin duel for their respective majorities, some members of the Essex delegation (part of which is suctioned to state Senator Dick Codey, a longtime enemy of South Jersey) appears actually uncommitted in the speaker’s fight. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy’s decision not to whistle off the NJEA dogs in Senate President Steve Sweeney’s (D-3) district adds to the hopes of those Prieto allies, who were only too happy to burnish the presence of Murphy at the sitting speaker’s fundraiser last week. Coughlin’s speakership comes yoked to Sweeney’s senate presidency restoration. So as long as Sweeney stays pinned down in his district fighting the powerful teacher’s union, Coughlin sweats and Prieto stays alive.

It’s very tenuous, of course.

Prieto may be too damaged at this point, his appointment to the Horizon Board of Sacco functionary Joey Muniz too toxic a decision to enable him to sit on the rostrum of power. Any votes he picks up and corrals may have to go toward a compromise speaker’s candidate, if it comes to that. Certainly, if Muller’s and Coughlin’s assembly candidates win and Prieto’s lose, it won’t.

But there’s also Murphy’s influence to pay attention to, and while it seems highly unlikely that the governor (if Murphy beats Kim Guadagno, and he’s pummeling her, according to every poll, by 19 points, according to this week’s Suffolk Poll) would go against Middlesex County (Middlesex was the first county that backed him for governor), to the extent that anti-South forces whisper in his ear and insist on a leadership structure that doesn’t enable the South to control both chambers, Murphy may have to pay attention. It’s volatile.



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