Guadagno’s Miracle Scenario

Kean and Guadagno

With only five weeks remaining until Election Day, New Jerseyans have only now begun to engage in the gubernatorial race between Republican Kim Guadagno and Democrat Phil Murphy.  The reason for the delay is clear and simple:  In today’s America, the actions and controversies of President Donald Trump totally absorb the electorate’s political attention, to the exclusion of everything else.  Love him or despise him, Donald Trump is the political figure who literally sucks all the oxygen out of the room.

As New Jersey voters move inexorably towards its Tuesday, November 7 day of gubernatorial decision, the media focus is on the post-Labor Day polls on Murphy’s approximately 20-point lead.  Ignored is the real story of the campaign:  Thus far, Guadagno has far outpaced Murphy in establishing issue competence.  If New Jersey voters see the election this way as we approach November 7, this will become a much closer race.

In terms of mastery of issues, Phil Murphy has been a model of incoherency and fealty to public employee unions and left-wing “progressive” Democrats.  On the issue of greatest significance to voters, property tax, he offers basically nothing.     

Murphy refuses to say whether he will even support the continuance of the two percent cap on salary arbitration awards for police and firefighters, a vital tool enacted by the Christie administration to contain municipal property tax hikes.  This is the most damning evidence of Murphy’s placing the interests of government employee unions above protection of real property tax payers.

Guadagno has proposed a ”circuit breaker” program that would provide increased rebates to younger taxpayers, senior citizens, and those approaching the age of senior citizenship.  In my view, her program does not go far enough, since it provides no benefits to middle class real estate tax payers and makes no changes whatsoever in the school funding formula, the real cause of suburban property tax hikes.  Still, at least Guadagno is proposing some measure of property tax relief.  Murphy provides nothing.

Murphy states that he will increase the ability of New Jersey to provide funding for schools and other worthwhile projects by attracting more wealth to the state.  This is the best example of Murphy’s issue incoherence.  How can he attract wealthy taxpayers to the Garden State while raising the millionaire’s tax?  This is a classic example of Phil Murphy promising to make water run uphill.

It is also clear in this campaign that in framing issue positions, Phil Murphy has become a prisoner of the “progressive” far left wing of the Democratic Party.  He is becoming New Jersey’s answer to George Soros.     

By contrast, Kim Guadagno has maintained her status as a Tom Kean-style advocate of the center-right.  Two issues stand out in this regard.

The first is the issue of the hallowed relationship between the State of New Jersey and the State of Israel, a bipartisan supported relationship that progressive Democrats have sought to diminish.  Guadagno has emphatically and unequivocally affirmed this relationship.    

By contrast, Phil Murphy sent out a disturbing signal for the future of New Jersey-Israel relations when he appointed Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver as his Lieutenant Governor running mate.  Oliver is a progressive Democrat and one of only three legislators who voted against S-1932/A-925, a measure that would have prevented the investment of New Jersey pension funds in companies that complied with the Arab boycotts of Israel.

The second is on the issue of tax incentives and rebates for companies expanding into New Jersey.  These tools have been vital to the success of New Jersey in creating new jobs and attracting new business.  While Guadagno has successfully worked with these programs as Lieutenant Governor, Murphy has embraced the agenda of progressive Democrat Gordon MacInnes and his New Jersey Policy Perspective organization in opposing their continuance.  This would leave New Jersey in a hopeless position in its efforts to win the competition for the new Amazon headquarters and its 50,000 new jobs. 

So in the battle to establish preeminence on issues, Kim Guadagno has established a clear substantive advantage over Phil Murphy.  Yet there are three factors why Guadagno trails Murphy in the polls by an almost insurmountable margin:  Demographics, history, and the Trump-Christie albatross. 

The demographic factor can be described in three words: Deep Blue Jersey.  New Jersey is more Democratic than at any time over the past fifty years.  Only six counties have a Republican plurality: Warren, Hunterdon, Sussex, Morris, Ocean, and Cape May. 

The second factor is historic:  In modern New Jersey history, a Republican has only been elected governor when there has been a highly unpopular Democratic incumbent.  Tom Kean won in 1981 due to the unpopularity of the then Democratic incumbent governor Brendan Byrne, and Christie Whitman and Chris Christie scored victories in 1993 and 2009, respectively against their highly unpopular Democratic incumbent governor opponents, Jim Florio and John Corzine. 

The third factor, the Trump-Christie albatross is Kim’s most intractable problem.  She indeed has been distant from Christie, but nobody believes that.  As for Trump, she can repudiate him only at the cost of losing major numbers of Trump voters.  

So it appears that in order for Kim Guadagno to overtake Phil Murphy, it will first take a solid triumph by her in the debates on October 11 and 20.  I think she will achieve this, based on both substance and style. 

After that, in order to overcome the above mentioned three factors, it will take a miracle that either massively boosts Chris Christie’s popularity or creates a massive scandal for Murphy and the Democrats. 

Good news on the Amazon front would skyrocket Christie’s approval ratings and accordingly boost Guadagno.  I know of no looming scandals for the Democrats, but historically, the New Jersey Democrats often seem to develop them.  

To sum up the pre-debate status of the candidates:  In the battle to establish preeminence on issues, Kim Guadagno has solidly established herself as a disciple of the center-right Tom Kean-Christie Whitman-tradition.  As for Phil Murphy: In the 1940 presidential election, Wendell Willkie was nicknamed “the barefoot boy from Wall Street.”   In 2017, on issues, Phil Murphy can well be described as “the empty suit from Goldman Sachs.” 

For Kim Guadagno, the campaign is now a pass (the debates), and a prayer – a game-changing miracle. 

Memo to Kim:  Call Jake Elliott, the new kicker for the Philadelphia Eagles, who won the team’s recent game against the New York Giants with a team record 61-yard field goal.  In politics, as well as sports, miracles do happen!  

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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One response to “Guadagno’s Miracle Scenario”

  1. This writer forgets the ability of intelligent voters to focus on the one issue where Kim wins, TAXES and in door knocking swing voters, that’s what they are focused on. Kim wins there. Let’s hope there are enough intelligent voters, rather than low information ones.

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