Five Key Factors in the GOP Gubernatorial Primary
The Gilmore Boogie Man Factor and the Boss War for Behind the Scenes Power
George Gilmore, the powerful longtime chairman of Ocean County, leapt aboard front-runner LG Kim Guadagno’s campaign early, and looked to be prepared to play the role of a big political asset. Gilmore delivered when he handed Guadagno the Ocean County with no difficulty. One can’t underestimate the significance of Ocean. When Chris Christie ran for governor in 2009, he received his highest vote totals from Ocean (over 22.5K), followed closely by his home county of Morris (22.2K). Guadagno has the party slogan in Morris too, just as Christie did. She also has
Monmouth and Bergen, like Christie, who earned 78K votes just in those four big counties alone. In his first run for governor, Christie also had all of Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli’s lines (Somerset, Union, Burlington, Essex, Mercer, and Middlesex), which produced, by comparison, just 50k votes for the GOP Primary candidate. The power starts with Ocean – and that’s all Gilmore. But just as Cronus gave birth to sons who wanted to usurp his power, so too must Gilmore, the Titan of GOP boss politics, contend with up and comers who want to get rid of him and run the post-Christie party without the intervention of Ocean County’s heavy hand. So at times it feels as though the primary is not Guadagno versus Ciattarelli so much as it is Gilmore against those other GOP chairs long chafing under Gilmore’s rule. Adding to the drama is an ongoing federal investigation of Gilmore, which his rivals will attempt to splash on the LG’s candidacy if the boss goes down prior to the Republican primary. Perhaps in defiance of the investigation, Gilmore traveled around the convention trail with Guadagno, showing up at her side in hostile counties like Union, Mercer and Middlesex.
I am Not Chris Christie
Everyone is running away from him, and why wouldn’t they? The sitting Republican governor has a terrible job approval rating – even among Republicans, who see him in the 30 percent range. In her last ad, Guadagno stood in front of the statehouse and railed against “Trenton politicians” and a proposal (courtesy of Christie) to renovate the premises at an estimated cost of $300 million. At the Middlesex County GOP convention on Saturday, Ciattarelli said he was the first person in the contest to denounce the renovation as outrageous. Both Guadagno and Ciattarelli vociferously opposed the gas tax for estate tax swap to fund the state’s depleted Transportation Trust Fund
(Christie’s signature achievement last year). Ciattarelli is now routinely criticizing the state of the Republican Party and its leadership, ever so gingerly not saying outright that Christie’s hubris prevented the party from developing as it might have with a Republican Governor. Then there’s Guadagno’s proposal for an elected attorney general, another outright undercutting of the man who installed his own loyalists from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the state AG’s Office. At every turn, they can’t run away from Christie fast enough. But if at first it looks like the only loser is Guadagno (for after all, she did serve in the administration for the last seven plus years), consider the discomfort of Ciattarelli, who has to publicly slap away at Christie while simultaneously cozying up to the Governor’s long-suffering allies. The guys who stood in there and publicly lugged the buckets of Christie era excrement are irritated at Guadagno precisely because they detect disloyalty. So they jump to the other candidate whose most obvious best shot is to package himself as un-Christie-like. Well, they rationalize, at least he never served in the administration.
A Record Versus Details
Ciattarelli prides himself in talking specifics, and revels in a campaign that puts forward a proposal to phase out Abbott Schools Funding (which account for around 70% of all state aid) as the primary way to reduce property taxes (that prime current mechanism to pay for schools). At the Union convention last week, Guadagno belittled Ciattarelli”s plans, arguing that it goes without saying that as a Republican she supports tax cuts. But two days after losing union in a close contest, the LG held up her record against what amounts to Ciattarelli’s rhetoric. The assemblyman has voted over 70% of the time with Democrats during the course of his six years in the legislature, she said. Meanwhile, unemployment in the Garden state is at 4.4%, or two digits under the national average. “How I loathe when politicians take credit for job creation,” Ciattarelli groaned in response to a Guadagno ad in which she does an end zone dance over the latest job numbers. businessmen like himself create jobs, not government bureaucrats, Ciattarelli noted pointedly.
The Surprise Factor, or The Ghost of Jeff Bell
There’s enough anti-institutional feel out there to consider the possibility of an upset. It might be one of those years where the lines don’t mean a damn. Maybe the NJGOP is indeed at that moment where primary voters will blow up the organizations to start completely anew. That’s partly the hope of Ciattarelli, who on paper has a distinct disadvantage to Guadagno in terms of line support, and who regularly notes that few thought the Cubs would win the World Series or that Donald Trump would be elected president. Jeff Bell won the 2014 GOP Primary with no support from the organizations. Granted, that year’s occupant of the Ocean line, Brian Goldberg, wasn’t Guadagno – but then Guadagno isn’t the 2009 version of Christie either. Most of the GOP lines lack the resonance of their counterparts in a Democratic primary: Essex, for example, Hudson, or Bergen. Bergen, in fact, may be sufficiently mangled by a grisly primary in LD40 to dilute the line; and an LD12 primary may enable Ciattarelli to siphon some votes out of Monmouth and Ocean. Trump’s anarchic triumph may play on those already well toned anti-establishment chords to produce – to Ciattarelli’s point about the Cubs – real contest volatility and unpredictability. This is also where underdogs – Nutley Commissioner Steve Rogers and landscape business owner Joe Rullo – feel they have a shot.
Phil Murphy, Jon Corzine, and Goldman Sachs Fatigue
In addition to their aversion of Christie, Ciattarelli and Guadagno share what appears to be a genuine delight in identifying the Democratic party standard-bearer as a Goldman Sachs retread. Ciattarelli’s favorite two for one line these days is “We don’t need a third term, and we don’t need the return of Jon Corzine.” It goes over like the opening guitar lick to “Sultans of Swing” at a Mark Knopfler concert. At Middlesex this past Saturday, Guadagno couldn’t help but swing away at the assemblyman, but took time to note that the real antagonist is Murphy. Eager to shoulder the same kicked to the curb white man’s globally-imposed burden successfully bench pressed by Donald J. Trump in last year’s presidential election, the GOP at every turn is trying to present itself as the party of the working man, in part in order to paint Murphy as an elitist banker who bought the Democratic nomination.
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