Governor Jack Ciattarelli in 2021?

Jack Ciattarelli is a cancer survivor. After that, a challenging gubernatorial campaign is easy on the nerves. I know – I’m a cancer survivor myself.

Ciattarelli is a definite underdog to Kim Guadagno in his quest for the 2017 Republican nomination for New Jersey governor. He is running in a year where this nomination has the intrinsic value of a ticket in 1915 on the Lusitania. The overwhelming unpopularity of both Chris Christie and Donald Trump in New Jersey creates a virtually insurmountable obstacle to the election of any GOP gubernatorial candidate. And the antipathy towards Trump in the Garden State could be magnified exponentially by his first budget, with its ruinous impact on the environment in New Jersey and by TrumpCare, which will increase the number of the state’s uninsured by 570,000.

Yet Jack Ciattarelli moves on with the optimism of a Happy Warrior. He is fond of saying, “Who a year ago would have predicted that the Chicago Cubs would win the pennant and Donald Trump would be in the White House?” And in Ciattarelli campaign consultant Chris Russell, the top GOP campaign guru in New Jersey, Jack has his own version of Chicago Cubs superstar MVP Kris Bryant.

Yet while Ciattarelli is displaying surprising competitiveness in the various GOP county conventions, he will have a most difficult, although not impossible, task in defeating Kim Guadagno. She will garner most of the county lines, and in what promises to be an extremely low turnout GOP primary, the line factor is likely to be decisive. The only way he can overcome this is through major fundraising, which will be most difficult in a year with such dismal GOP prospects.

Yet win or lose, Ciattarelli is building a most impressive brand for himself. Jack Ciattarelli has proposed a five-point program comprising the most comprehensive and courageous agenda of any GOP gubernatorial primary candidate over the past five decades. One does not have to agree with every aspect of the Ciattarelli plan to admire its boldness and incisiveness. In proposing this agenda, Jack Ciattarelli has displayed an ability to think in a focused way, yet outside the box. He establishes himself as a candidate of admirable independence and principle, yet unbound by ideological or partisan constraints.

In a campaign where the GOP brand would not be a negative, the Ciattarelli brand could be a big winner. The 2021 election could be such a campaign. Phil Murphy is laying the foundation for a landslide victory this November. Yet by promising state largesse to every state special interest group, thus necessitating a broad-based tax increase, Murphy is setting the stage for a major GOP comeback in 2021 and his own political demise in that election after only one term.

I am totally befuddled as to why Murphy is so recklessly making promises and commitments. He is assured of winning the Democratic nomination, and there is no reason for him to be so cowed by the NJEA, the CWA, and the Bernie Sanders forces. Democrats do privately express concern that Phil Murphy could be the second coming of Jon Corzine. If he continues to make foolhardy state financial commitments resulting in broad-based tax increases after his inauguration, Phil Murphy will be the second coming of Jim Florio.

In a 2021 contest, Jack Ciattarelli would be an incumbent Governor Murphy’s worst nightmare. I have heard Ciattarelli speak out on issues on the floor of the State Assembly, and I can say unequivocally that he is one of the best debaters ever seen in the State House. If the Republicans secure a more favorable reapportionment map in 2021, Ciattarelli could be the leader in that year of a Republican insurgent surge that wins for the GOP both the governorship and the legislature.

I am sure that Jack Ciattarelli is focused on winning the governorship in 2017 rather than 2021. If Jack Ciattarelli does not win the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2017, however, this may well set the stage for a Governor Jack Ciattarelli in 2021.

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.

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