Last night, Phil Murphy gave the worst debate performance of any New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial candidate over the last forty years. It doesn’t matter how many people watched the debate. Murphy’s two principle blunders provide fodder for commercials by Republican candidate Kim Guadagno and the Republican Governors Association. These commercials will be devastating.
The first blunder was Murphy’s advocacy of turning New Jersey into a Sanctuary State, where state officials will not cooperate with federal officials in enforcing federal immigration laws. If anybody wants to learn how this has worked on a city level, they should ask the family of San Francisco murder victim Kathryn Steinle. In pandering to his base by his Sanctuary State proposal, Murphy is now providing super-charged fuel to Republican get-out-the-vote efforts. And he may well alienate independent voters in great numbers.
The second blunder was Murphy’s laughable and pathetic attempts to distance himself from prominent Democratic fundraiser and alleged sexual predator Harvey Weinstein. There is no way that Murphy can with any credibility deny his past political involvement with him. The New York Post reported that in August, Murphy met with Weinstein and Robert DeNiro in an attempt to enlist them as fundraisers. And during Murphy’s tenure as Democratic National Committee (DNC) finance chair, Weinstein donated to the DNC $28,500.
Then, Murphy made it worse by equating Weinstein with rank-and-file members of the National Rifle Association (NRA). However one feels about the political positions of the NRA, there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the NRA members are law abiding citizens. This distorted comparison also constitutes a trivialization of Weinstein’s alleged crimes.
All this will have a strong tendency to decrease Murphy’s voter appeal to Guadagno’s strongest constituency: suburban middle class working women. And Guadagno strengthened her hold on this demographic with her performance last night.
She was purposeful, calm, warm, yet thoughtful, and addressed fully the leading concern of these voters: property taxes. At the same time, she noted Murphy’s total failure to address this issue. Murphy’s answers on Weinstein had to be most unsettling to these voters.
In short, the last phase of the campaign is a matchup between Plutocrat Phil Murphy, depicted in a series of Jersey Journal articles by Agustin Torres as ostentatiously living the lifestyle of the rich and famous while serving as Ambassador to Germany, and thoroughly middle class family lifestyle Kim Guadagno. As a candidate thus far, Phil Murphy strongly resembles the original New York Mets hapless, error prone first baseman Marv Throneberry. One of Marv’s teammates once said to him, “We wanted to give you a birthday cake, but we were afraid you would drop it!”
So we now have the beginning of a far more competitive race. Murphy still leads, but we now know how capable he is of having a political meltdown. And Kim has proven in the debate her political gravitas. The next four weeks should be most interesting. Stay tuned.
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 under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.