ASBURY PARK – It seemed more like March than May.
In the Stone Pony, with the sea just outside the front door, it felt like the wind could wrench the door off the hinges to reveal the imposing ghost of Clarence Clemons. But in fact, up on the sawdust bitten stage stood a blue-jeaned state Senator Jennifer Beck (R-11), casually filling out the iconic xs and os of wharf front underdog in this most watched general election contest.
“We take this job very seriously and you’re going to see on Nov. 7 one of the largest victories in Monmouth County history,” said Beck, alone at first, with the words “Stone Pony” framing her, just before her two running mates sauntered up onstage and flanked her.
“Yeah, Jen,” someone screamed.
They’re almost all gone now.
Joe Kyrillos – impeccable in the crowd as he raised his arm in a gesture of goodwill when Beck shouted him out as a mentor.
Sean Kean. Dumped downstairs from the senate to the assembly.
And so on.
It’s down to Beck, with the charred remains of past GOP campaigns smoldering in the room under the exquisite – nonetheless – public demeanor of former Assemblywoman Mart Pat Angelini, who clapped in the darkness. The Democrats picked her off two years ago and now they want Beck out of there, and the specter behind her opponent can only finally mean one thing, the senator noted at the microphone.
“This county understands what it means to have the Camden County machine [in charge],” she said, and there were boos.
“They’re going to throw five, seven or 14 million at us – whatever crazy number they’re going to come up with – and say terrible things,” said the senator, who, by the looks of it tonight, will fight out of a blue collar, back up against the wall posture.
Monmouth County GOP Chairman Shaun Golden stood in the room.
So did state Senator Sam Thompson (R-12).
“Jen’s a colleague,” he told InsiderNJ.
When Beck was done, the Springsteen lookalike under a cowboy hat grabbed one of the guitars in a rack onstage, took her place in front of the microphone and whaled; and on the other side of the street about a block and change south, Democratic challenger Vin Gopal entertained his guests in front of a roaring fire with a splendid second story view of the ocean.
The same town.
Two different scenes.
One looked like Joan Jett could be in there playing a pinball machine.
The other was a sedate and elegant affair.
A former Monmouth County Democratic Chairman, Gopal, still only 32, spent the last 12 years building relationships in the Democratic Party, including strong ties to Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), who could pad his 24 caucus members to 25 with a Gopal win. Sweeney and Beck don’t really get along, either, which might motivate the senate president to keep the money cranking. But Gopal has also built relationships everywhere, and part of his argument moving forward will be to convince the voters if the 11th that he’s not simply Camden’s Monmouth County version of Robbie the Robot.
“If he’s going to beat her, it’s got to be this year,” a source in the Watermark told InsiderNJ.
The big early play for the Dems appears to be an Oreo cookie sandwich job on Beck that crams her between Governor Chris Christie (18% job approval as he limps out of office) and President Donald J. Trump (35% job approval, according to this week’s Q-Poll).
The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) poured big dollars into the district two years ago, and siganled a willingness to do it again – putting their stamp of approval on the Democrat earlier today.
“I am so honored to have the support of the NJEA,” said Gopal. “Providing our children with the best education possible is absolutely paramount to a brighter future. NJEA is working every day to make sure we get there by attracting the best minds to teach our students, investing in upgrades to our classrooms, and making sure our kids are learning the skills that will best prepare them for the future.”
The money will bury whatever Beck attempts to fight back with, or so runs the CW.
Democrats here acted like next month’s primary is but a formality, and look forward to the general election candidacies of Phil Murphy for the Democrats and Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno for the GOP, and are confident that Guadagno will be a drag on the top of the Republican ticket, despite the fact that she served as sheriff of Monmouth and lives here.
“Murphy wants this,” a face near the bar mumbled, referring to the Democratic front-runner from Middletown, who’d love to pick up a Democratic senator as he assumes the oath of office.
Gopal’s fundraiser was packed, with the likes for East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor, Hudson operative Tommy Bertoli, Jersey City operative Shawn E. Thomas-Sullivan, Cristina Pinzon, power couple John and Liz Duthie, and others wandering the bar boards. There were some barbell pumping motions down the length of the bartop, when the name of Beck came up and invocations of her party across the street. Tough, very tough, but doable, was a common refrain.
In any event, what came to mind out on there on the boardwalk with the waves tumbling in and giving the sand a beating and all those people milling in their respective camps was the beginning stages of a fight.