Republicans from throughout New Jersey will convene in Atlantic County March 6-7 for two days of training and socializing along the ocean. What Republicans learn and discuss during the annual Statewide Republican Leadership Summit can dictate our party’s success in the years ahead.
With two Democratic U.S. Senators, a majority of the congressional delegation in Democrat hands and a Democratic Governor and Legislature, the task ahead is a daunting one.
But if we focus on supporting solid candidates who are electable, we can take advantage of a splintered New Jersey Democratic Party to elect more Republicans in the Garden State this and next year, restoring our party’s relevance with solid conservative policies.
Republicans’ efforts in Atlantic County can offer the state a blueprint for success.
Despite having thousands of more Democratic than Republican voters in Atlantic County, we have a Republican County Executive, Republican Surrogate, a majority on the Freeholder Board and Republican majorities in two-thirds of our townships, cities and boroughs. In last year’s election alone, 84% of the Republicans running in all races in Atlantic County were elected.
This is what we have done:
Take redistricting seriously and plan ahead. Unlike most counties, Atlantic County has 5 freeholder districts. Despite the Chief Justice choosing a registered Democrat to break the tie on our redistricting commission, with the help of minority communities who thought they were being disenfranchised by their own Democratic Party, we were able to convince the tie-breaker (a respected retired judge, not a professor) to choose our Republican map.
Hold the Democrats accountable for ballot harvesting. The Democrats know they can’t win at the polls, so they have resorted to harvesting vote by mail ballots by paying bounties on votes turned in by canvassers. We have hired private investigators and placed challengers at the Board of Elections to make sure that every vote is an honest one.
Run Republicans everywhere. No town is written off from receiving support. In Atlantic City, which has a 10-1 Democrat to Republican voter advantage, we supported former Atlantic City Republican Mayor Don Guardian in his successful election. And Councilman Jesse Kurtz was just reelected for another term in the 6th Ward.
Diversity matters. It is critical for us as a party to encourage and support, both organizationally and financially, women and persons of color who want to run as Republicans. Last year, Freeholder Amy Gatto was chosen as the first female chair of our Freeholder Board. And this year Andrew Parker, an African-American Committee member from Egg Harbor Township, is running for Freeholder. His incumbent opponent has already dropped out of the race.
Hold open conventions to discourage divisive primaries. In Atlantic County, we have an annual convention with elected officials and party activists – the grassroots. No screening committees. This has led to our county having the most fair and transparent convention process in the state. As a result, candidates feel that they are treated with respect and it discourages costly primaries where Republicans beat up Republicans.
As Republicans meet in Atlantic City this week, let’s take some of our successes in Atlantic County and apply them statewide with these ideas:
- Establish a voter integrity arm within the state party to stop the nefarious practice of ballot harvesting, threatening the integrity of our elections. While we encourage voters to vote by mail, let’s make sure every vote is cast by an eligible voter.
- Frontload our county conventions in 2021 to coalesce around an electable gubernatorial candidate early. Phil Murphy is not Jon Corzine. We need every advantage to win back the governorship. An expensive primary hurts our chances. Let’s have a January 31 convention deadline in 2021 to give our nominee a head start.
- Work with like-minded Democrats to advance our principles. Let’s pick some issues where we can work with Democrats to get things done. State Senator Chris Brown and Assemblyman Ryan Peters have introduced bipartisan legislation to expand the Open Public Records Act to cover the legislature. The Democrats in Trenton should adhere to the same rules they impose on every other level of government. Governor Murphy supports the idea. Let’s put together a majority of Democrats and Republicans to get this passed and pull back the curtain on how the state legislature does the public’s business.
- Pick a dozen county and municipal races throughout the state, currently held by Democrats, and plow in resources. The Democrats are much better at this than we are. We can’t build a state party unless we have more Republicans holding office at the local level – especially with diverse backgrounds. If all our resources go into friendly territory, we will continue to be stuck in neutral – or worse, reverse.
With unity and discipline, we can have more competitive elections in New Jersey and yes, elect more Republicans to federal, state, county and municipal offices. The future trends of our state are dismal under continued Democratic control. It’s up to us to make sure voters have an alternative to take our state in a different direction.
Keith Davis is the Atlantic County Republican Chairman. He previously served as Chair of the New Jersey Republican Chairmen’s Association and legal counsel to the Republican State Committee.