New Jersey Republican Party Chairman Doug Steinhardt sized up today’s Monmouth University Poll, which shows the potential for a tsunami-sized GOP hit here, and contextualized it with other elements he says will give his party a stronger play in New Jersey come the November General Election.
“My first observation is if the polling was that reliable we’d be getting our press releases from President Clinton,” said the state party chair, referring to 2016 polls that predicted a Hillary Clinton victory over Donald J. Trump.
Monmouth University Pollster Patrick Murray’s poll today finds Trump dragging the GOP here, as the President wallows with a 34% approval rating in the Garden State.
“I cant refute that New Jersey is largely a blue state, with an 800,000 voter registration edge by Democrats,” Steinhardt said, “but I don’t agree that some of the other drivers nationally and economically necessarily support the argument that it’s going to be such a rout. A lot of factors that motivate voters augur to a GOP advantage.”
Coming off a GOP summit in Atlantic City this past weekend that he organized, he has good candidates running this year, he says – and they will ultimately determine his party’s fate. “I don’t think I’ve ever walked into a voting booth and considered outside influences other than the candidate I was voting for,” said the state party chairman. “We have some interesting and potentially new and diverse candidates as well as some longtime elder statesmen who have managed to survive – people like U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance. I don’t believe the polling accurately reflects the streets.”
The chairman slapped at incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), that presence on the top of the Democrats’ 2018 ticket who spent much of his last term gutting through and surviving corruption charges.
“When you start breaking it down and looking at the dynamics of it, I do believe there are Democrats out there who wont vote for Menendez; who are disillusioned and disheartened by his service and his reputation,” said Steinhardt. “[Republican Senate candidate] Bob Hugin hasn’t even made it through a primary yet – it’s April. But we’re looking at the potential for a lifetime politician in New Jersey to face a man with a lifetime of public service.”
Steinhardt celebrated the attendance of well over 400 people at his weekend summit.
“They’re ramped up behind Bob [Hugin],” he said. “The environment Saturday was extremely upbeat, and not just socially – there was substance to it. The RNC [Republican National Committee] came up and ran the biggest RNC training event ever.”
But there is still that divide in the GOP, between pro Trump Republicans and those who don’t favor the President, and Trump is the main voter galvanizer, according to today’s poll.
“I would not go so far as to call it a rift,” Steinhardt said. “That is a mischaracterization. The President is a polarizing guy but it forces people to have discussions and dialogue that are not altogether unhealthy. I spent the entire day running around Atlantic City this weekend and did not have a single conversation regarding the President. It just didn’t come up. These discussions will play themselves out into June and then the rallying cry will be to get behind Republican candidates. If you’re not supporting a Republican candidate then you’re supporting a Democrat. Again, I don’t find the discussions unhealthy. How we harness that energy falls on all of us as an organization. I don’t view it as an obstacle. I view it as a bit of an asset.”
Steinhardt refused to comment on the fight between Trump and former FBI Director James Comey, whose book, which is highly critical of the President, comes out tomorrow.
“I’m not going to weigh in on the personality battle going on there,” the state party chairman said. “We’re here to win Republican contests. I think that’s a distraction.”
Much of the energy now hinges on GOP satisfaction with Senate candidate Hugin.
“His strength is just Bob being himself,” Steinhardt said. “Consider where he started. He and Menendez grew up in the same town. He was the first person in his family to go to college. He showed tremendous work ethic. He went to Princeton. He leaves Princeton, joins the armed forces and becomes a United States Marine. He spends seven years in the military and finds his way back to Celgene and turns the company into a multibillion dollar corporation. This is a man with drive and work ethic. He doesn’t come across as being pretentious or having a sense of entitlement. My agricultural voters in Warren can relate to him, just as businesspeople and trades people can. Both his boys became United States Marines. He’s what everyone thinks of when they think of the American Dream. This is a person guided by a sense of service, and that’s a tough opponent in any environment.”
Whether that – and other factors – are enough to offset the toxicity Murray identifies in Trump in today’s poll represents a significant test for Steinhardt.