The GOP’s Closing Anti-Murphy Argument to Voters (and other Trail Tales, Part 3)

GOP Leader Steinhardt.

In key battleground contests around the state, Democrats are intent on emphasizing superior organization, anti-Trump trends, and social issues as organizing principles in the Garden State; while in the closing days of this legislative cycle, the GOP steadily hammers a single individual: Governor Phil Murphy, with particular attention to his quote about taxes.

“We don’t talk about Governor Murphy as much as you would think,” LD21 Democrat Lisa Mandelblatt told Politico. “Normally, this would be a referendum on the governor. I’ve got to tell you — most folks are focused on what’s going on in Washington with the Trump administration.”

Trenton Democrats on the legislative side jeer at the governor (remember, this state’s politics in the Murphy era has mostly turned on legislative Democrats led by senate President Steve Sweeney [D-3] opposing Murphy at key moments, and most consistently on taxes) and deride him as esentially irrelevant to the campaign process. But Republicans looking to pick off Democrats in the Legislature, or more often, hoping to withstand Democratic challengers, are intent on reminding voters that this is a state, not federal election, dogged by spendthrift “Democrat” Governor.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21), part of the incumbent Republican team trying to hold off Democrats Mandelblatt and Stacy Gunderman, said in a YouTube message, “Phil Murphy wants two more votes for his crazy tax and spend policies. Don’t give Phil Murphy two more votes. Stick with Bramnick and Munoz.”

It’s not without irony, as Murphy has few allies in the legislature come crunch time. For two years legislators have proved loyalty to their caucus, not the governor, whose biggest fight is with his own party, in fact, or with the biggest unelected boss in his own party, as his governor’s task forces continues to examine the underpinnings of Economic Development Authority (EDA) tax incentives that benefited Camden businesses close to Democratic Party power broker George Norcross III. Now the FBI is involved. But Murphy, not Norcross, is indisputably the overriding main GOP target in this 2019 cycle.  Of course, the reasons for that extend beyond merely abbreviated messaging. Republican Governor Chris Christie signed the New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act, which contained the tax incentives now under investigation, which puts incumbent Republicans who have been around for some time closer in a critical and fundamental way to the interests of establishment Democrats who buck the governor. The election provides the establishment with the illusion of a partisan contest while enabling Democrats still affiliated with an extant Christie wing of the party and their caucus affiliates – insulated by a combination of D registration advantage, rage against Trump, demographics and money – to presumably gain more power, allowing, in the process, the GOP to bludgeon a common foe named Murphy.

Then again, Murphy makes it easier, his antagonists argue, noting his KYW Radio statement. “If you’re a one-issue voter and tax rate is you’re issue, either a family or a business, if that’s the only basis upon which you’re going to make a decision, we’re probably not your state.”

Below are examples in the state’s key Tuesday elections of Republicans honing in on Murphy as the state’s main ailment:

“On Nov. 5th, send Phil Murphy a message. Tell him this is our state. Reject his Democratic lapdogs, because we can do better,” exhorted GOP State Chairman Doug Steinhardt.

Then there’s centrally organized message from the Assembly GOP:

“Murphy is also spending over $1 million for a fancy new office in Newark that will cost over $100,000 more in rent per year Assembly GOP.”

Running in the Battleground 8th Legislative District, incumbent Assemblyman Ryan Peters (R-8) said, “Taxpaying residents hear you loud and clear, governor. If we don’t like going broke paying taxes then there’s the door. Get out. People have families here. They own businesses here. They made a life here. They can’t just up and move because the state is shaking them down, and they shouldn’t have to.”

The governor has staffers in Morris and Somerset counties (LD 16, 21, 25, 26) and LD8. Significantly, veteran operative Justin Braz, the governor’s deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs, is “on the ground” in LD25, according to a Murphy ally. But for the most part, Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee (DACC) sources are intent on keeping their longtime intraparty nemesis out of the way.

His weekend schedule includes swings through Morris and Somerset counties.

The GOP is waiting for him in Somerset.

The countywide ticket of Freeholder Pat Walsh and Sheriff’s candidate Bill Parenti released this welcoming statement:

“The Murphy-Russo-Marano Tax and Spend Trio is reuniting to making one last final push to make Somerset County a sanctuary county and find new ways to raise taxes on us,” said Parenti and Walsh. “In Governor Murphy’s own words: the buck stops with us, and we’re not going to let that happen.”

Steinhardt continues to keep a steady anti-Murphy message in play.

“This year, among Governor Phil Murphy’s multitude of new taxes, he signed a tax on Jersey Shore vacation rentals. The NJGOP called on the Governor to refund to the moms and pops who were forced to pay it, the money he was so quick to take. In response, he ignored us, and them. It seems this was just another Democrat money grab that hit hardest in communities still recovering from Superstorm Sandy.”

In LD1, Republican challenger Mike Testa (like Ryan Peters in LD8) has derided incumbent Senator Bob Andrzejczak’s (D-1) connection to the South Jersey Democratic machine, but has mostly kept his focus on the governor.

“Bob Andrzejczak votes with Phil Murphy 95% of the time,” Testa says in nearly every soundbite.

The association has to be painful to Andrzejczak, affiliated with that wing of the Democratic Party that routinely fights Murphy, which rejected his millionaire’s tax proposal, which forged politically symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationships with Christie, which impede Murphy as a matter of political survivial and power projection. But he’s still the governor of a party so strong that it can afford to fight with itself in a midterm election and be certain of a legislative supermajority on the other side of Tuesday, ready to hit the ground running next Wednesday with a bloody intraparty fight for the office of Democratic State party chairman.

 

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