Election Dynamics, One Week Out: Polarized Parties, Shrinking Undecided Voter Universe, Leroy Jones Leads Democratic GOTV, and a Last-Minute Joe Biden Factor Emerges

Murphy and Ciattarelli

One week to go.  At this point, the New Jersey gubernatorial race is closer than I thought it would be, as shown by the Emerson College Poll published last Friday, showing incumbent Democratic Governor Phil Murphy with a six-point lead over his Republican challenger, former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli.  I remain confident, however, in my prediction of a victory by Murphy over Ciattarelli, probably in the high single digit range.

In this era of Trump, the decision of the mainstream voter in New Jersey is far more based upon party identification than on issues per se.  Party identification and allegiance has become, more than anything else, a function of the voter’s attitude towards Donald Trump.

In Trump-polarized America, the typical party- registered voter will basically ignore the issue positions and often even the records of the candidates and simply proceed to vote for the standard bearers of his or her party, as long as they adhere to the party position on Donald Trump.  Indeed, the Trump factor and the resulting polarization is so pervasive and emotional that Democrats and Republicans, by and large, find it repulsive to even consider voting for a candidate of the other party.

Accordingly, the Trump-caused polarization has enabled each of this year’s two New Jersey gubernatorial candidates to carry the overwhelming majority of his respective party.  There are one million more registered Democrats than Republicans, so turnout is the key.  If Democrats turn out in their normal gubernatorial election year percentage, Murphy wins comfortably.  If Democratic turnout is subpar, the Independent voters may hold the key to the election outcome.

In that respect, the Murphy campaign anti-Trump strategy has already succeeded.   The anti-Trump factor in the Murphy campaign commercials, showing in vivid detail Ciattarelli’s profound allegiance to Donald Trump, has strengthened party loyalty in each party and made it impossible for Ciattarelli to garner any significant percentage of the Democratic vote.  The Murphy campaign commercial, “Our Way”, was a work of art in that regard.

Ciattarelli has surprised many pundits, including myself, however, by offsetting in part his deficiency among Democratic voters by amassing a substantial plurality among Independent voters.  He has gained this advantage by winning the votes of men Independents, based upon his effective use of the tax issue.

The most potent Ciattarelli tool in appealing to these men voters is his commercial, “One Issue,” one of the most effective gubernatorial campaign commercials I have ever seen.  It contains a film clip of Phil Murphy saying, “If you’re a one issue voter, and tax rate is your issue, we’re probably not your state.”

Now I would not be surprised if this Murphy statement with the resulting film clip was taken out of context.  In fact, taking statements out of context is the rule, rather than the exception, in both political parties with regard to television commercials. So I think this Ciattarelli campaign commercial is fair game.

While this Ciattarelli commercial has a definite appeal to Independent women voters as well as independent men voters, the Murphy campaign has managed to retain a substantial share of women Independents by virtue of his record (paid family leave) and positions (reproductive freedom) on issues of particular concern to women.  In fact, in the remaining days of the campaign, I expect this to be the pattern regarding undecided voters, with 1) Ciattarelli receiving the votes of most of the presently men undecideds on the basis of the tax issue; and 3) Murphy receiving a majority of the presently women undecideds, based upon women’s issues and his performance on Covid 19.

The major obstacle now to a Ciattarelli victory is that there are not enough undecideds left for him to make up for his deficiency among Democratic voters.  The share of likely voters who are undecided is down to less than seven percent.

Most importantly, I expect the Democrats to have a successful Get-out-the-Vote (GOTV) effort, led by State Democratic Chair Leroy Jones, who is the consummate politician, a master of street politics, White and Black, grassroots politics, backroom politics, and community organizing politics.

I have had almost daily conversations with Leroy Jones over the last month.  He already has a robust GOTV program in progress, focused on all three modes of voting, including election day polling sites, early voting, and vote by mail (VBM).  I will describe Jones’ ongoing GOTV efforts in a column later this week.

Against Leroy Jones, the Republicans have as their State Chair Bob Hugin.  He is a superb fundraiser, but he has no experience with street politics, most noteworthy GOTV.

The last time there was an election dependent on successful GOTV was in 1997, between Republican Governor Christie Whitman and Democratic challenger Jim McGreevey. The then New Jersey Republican Chair was former Assembly Speaker Garabed “Chuck” Haytaian.  He and the late, lamented former State Republican Chair Frank Holman, Jr.  were the two finest Republican street politicians of the past century.

In 1997, Chuck as state Chair ran the finest Republican GOTV effort in the history of the New Jersey Republican Party.  Had it not been for Chuck’s efforts, Christie Whitman would have been defeated by Jim McGreevey.  Unfortunately for Jack Ciattarelli, Bob Hugin is no Chuck Haytaian.

And Leroy Jones may have a major unanticipated bonus assist if Joe Biden is able to make a deal before Election Day that would guarantee passage of both his $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act brick-and mortar infrastructure package and at least $2.0 trillion of his $3.5 trillion Build Back Better social infrastructure program.   Such an event would have a galvanizing effect on rank-and-file Democrats throughout New Jersey.  It would result in a near double-digit Murphy victory and a comeback victory by Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia gubernatorial contest.

The boost to Democratic turnout would be most impactful in urban New Jersey.  The African-American vote was the key to Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential victory over Donald Trump.  Polls and anecdotal evidence suggest that while African-Americans still support Joe Biden and his policies, there is a feeling of disappointment among them that Biden has not been able to deliver on his promises.  A deal this week on both these infrastructure packages would increase African-American enthusiasm for Biden to stratospheric levels and consequently most significantly increase urban, Democratic turnout in New Jersey on Election Day.

No doubt, a budget victory by Joe Biden prior to next Tuesday, November 2 would be cause for a Mardi Gras-level Democratic celebration in New Jersey on Tuesday, November 2, 2021.

Alan J. Steinberg served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

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  • Kathleen Demarest

    ……………………FOR THE TIME CHALLENGED

    Impressive title, interesting, informative column…………yes, but………
    ‘Democrats and Republicans, by and large, find it repulsive to even consider
    voting for a candidate of the other party.’ That statement says it all.

    Issues? Are there issues? It is a contest of ..TRUMPISM VS. ANTI-TRUMPISM

    So write on, Alan Steinberg, do your best to discuss and research those
    important issues. Commenters might write interesting—thought provoking—
    even, filled with wisdom, but mind changing…NO!!

    SO LET’S STAMP OUT TRUMPISM AND GO FORWARD
    WITH CANDIDATES THAT ARE THE ANTITHESIS OF TRUMPISM,!!!

  • Moe Howard

    You’ve got it all wrong Steinberg. Independents and right-leaning Dems are not thinking about Trump. Here’s what they’re thinking about:

    Inflation — Filled your car with gas lately? Home heating bills are expected to surge this winter. Higher fuel costs will be reflected in higher prices for a lot of what we buy. Been to the supermarket lately? Shortages are getting worse and aren’t expected to get better until late next year. Higher prices and empty shelves. We can expect to see more of this in the coming year.

    Spending/Debt — The state budget has grown some 30% in Murphy’s first term, due to reckless spending. He unnecessarily borrowed $4B, which we both know will get ground up in the machine. Our kids have to pay this back. Think this won’t happen again in a 2nd Murphy term?

    Property Taxes — Nothing done on this. And don’t tell me it’s a local thing. Meaningful pension and benefit reforms can play a real part in slowing the increase of property taxes. But the unions own Murphy, so forget it.

    Crime — Bail reform, sentencing reform have done nothing but make our streets more dangerous. Anticipated police reforms will do nothing but tie the hands of the police and unnecessarily put their jobs and lives at risk. Look at other Dem-run states and cities around the country. This is where we’re headed. How long until CA-style shoplifting becomes fashionable in NJ?

    Lockdowns — Murphy’s lockdowns resulted in a 30% loss of small business in NJ. Yet, the big-box stores were allowed to stay open. How did he pick the winners and losers? On the science? Expect more mandates, particularly a NY-style passport mandate in the near future. And what about the 7900 people that died in the nursing homes? Did we get to the bottom of that? Nothing to see here, move on. Can you imagine this happening under a Christie administration?

    Illegal Immigration — The illegals are streaming across the Southern border, unvaccinated and unmasked. The Biden administration is putting them on planes and shipping them all over the country. I wonder how many wind up here? I wonder how much this will cost us? I know Phil will have no problem spending OUR hard-earned tax dollars on these illegals. After all, “NJ has to do its part!” Kind of sounds like “pay your fair share,” doesn’t it?

    Education — “And the beat goes on…” Still pumping good money after bad into the Abbott districts, at the expense of everyone else. Why are we still paying for Hoboken and Jersey City schools? Give each kid a voucher. Open more charter schools, parents in the urban districts are screaming for them. Let the parents choose an alternative to government schools, regardless of their zip codes. But I digress…the NJEA won’t have it, and the NJEA OWNS MURPHY.

    Treatment of women — Murphy showed his true character with the Katie Brennan fiasco. Why wasn’t she blindly believed? You know, like that Ford woman was during the Kavanaugh hearings. Why did Phil all-of-a-sudden say he knew nothing about it? Why did the media give him a pass? Where was NOW and #MeToo? How about the non-disclosure thing with his female campaign workers? How about the women on the soccer team? A man who treats women like Murphy does can never be a real man.

    Murphy is running against Trump because he can’t talk to any of the above. Most of us smell desperation. The most-trending hashtag in America is #FJB, and yet, here he is. Wind him up and send to NJ. Keep his speech brief and don’t let him answer any questions. And if that’s not enough, let’s bring in Bolshevik Bernie. This pretty much tells you all you need to know about Murphy’s agenda.

    Just to be clear Steinberg…Trump isn’t running. And he’s got nothing to do with Jack, or this election. To most of us, this election is a referendum on Murphy’s record and our pocketbooks. I really doubt Trump plays into the equation for most of us.

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