Gubernatorial Campaign 2017: Guadagno Versus Murphy in Rutherford

RUTHERFORD – The gubernatorial campaigns had their own challenges at the annual Street Fair here, unofficially the bellwether kickoff of the New Jersey general election season. Democrat Phil Murphy had to present just enough organic-looking authenticity to avoid projecting the clanking, bug-squashing arrogance of a passionless imperial army; while Republican Kim Guadagno needed to play up underdog passion without too nobly resembling the Spartan Army of Leonidas that got crushed by Xerxes.

InsiderNJ tried to ply the “it’s over” narrative among Democrats, and they didn’t – for the most part – take the bait.

“I think it’s fair to say we have the momentum,” Bergen Freeholder Tracy Zur said, hardly engaging in Floyd “Pretty Boy” Floyd beat-down talk with two months and three days to go before Election Day, as her candidate, Murphy, rides a 3-1 fundraising advantage, a completely submerged lame duck Governor Chris Christie limping to the finish line of his two-term tenure, and poll numbers that make Murphy a strong favorite.

For her part, a game-looking Guadagno completely dismissed the notion of non-event general, even as she lent credence to her point of view by mustering a credible show of street force on the scene in front the local post office about an hour after Murphy bulldozed through the same area with a horde of barbarian-fangled sign wavers, paid volunteers, and a smattering of Bergen and North Jersey regional political stars.

Murphy, Schaer and the gang.

Working a stall, a Democratic source stifled a cackle of derision just prior to the Republican gubernatorial candidate aligning on the asphalt here, sizing up what looked early like a lack of muscular GOP optics simply mirroring a belly-up top-of-the-ticket campaign. But by the time the sitting LG appeared, a robust cross-section of Republicans had the warpaint on and greeted their candidate with a hearty and forceful show of support.

“My chairman,” Guadagno enthused, throwing her arms around Bergen County GOP Chairman Paul DiGaetano, who led a solid cadre of backers. A pumped up-looking Woodcliff Mayor Carlos Rendo strode into the fray with Guadagno, who referred to her Democratic rival as “a millionaire tax man.”

“There’s a billion dollars worth of reasons not to vote for Phil Murphy,” she told InsiderNJ. “Have you been to Connecticut lately?”

But won’t Democrats simply be able to smother her with the Christie association, InsiderNJ protested.


“Look, I’m running on my record, my values and my principles,” Guadagno said, “and I don’t think anybody confuses me with Chris Christie. He’s not on the ballot. This campaign is all about pocketbook issues. People in New Jersey can’t afford to live here anymore. They’re moving out – and the millennials are moving out. This is about a Goldman Sachs millionaire who’s promised to raise taxes versus a working mom who used to be the sheriff who’s created jobs in New Jersey and who’s promised to lower taxes.”

But the GOP brand, InsiderNJ persisted. Haven’t Christie and Trump proved a lethal combination?

“The Republican brand is very clear,” Guadagno said. “It’s about lower taxes. I think the public polls don’t reflect what people believe in.”

Hurrahs of throaty support sounded around the LG, who looked confident, grounded and eager to maintain a high octane campaign work rate.


Earlier in the day, Murphy had entered onto the same scene looking like a poor man’s Augustus: Enough silver-haired gravitas and a sufficiently bulked up crew of ring kissers and allies to merit attention and a parting, enthusiastic crowd; but also enough humility and friendly accessibility to strike a democratic governmental chord. His entourage included U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell and U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, Assemblyman Gary Schaer, Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco, Freeholder Tracy Zur, and many others, including campaign diehards Jenny Davis and Dave Parano.

“I think it continues to be the economy,” Murphy told InsiderNJ when asked about his focus for the coming days as he closes in on the end of the trail. “It doesn’t grow, it’s not strong enough, it’s not fair enough, and it doesn’t work for enough people.”

Republicans seem energized by his promise of a millionaire’s tax, but Murphy said he believes it’s fair and necessary in these times as he anticipates another revenue stream too from the legalization of marijuana. “I think we have a very credible plan that is fair to the broad bulk of the middle class of this state,” Murphy said as he walked and shook hands. “It’s not gimmicky. Both sides of the equation balance out to get this state growing again.”

What looked at first like a handful of inflatable support personnel trotted out to make Guadagno appear competitive, and a less than lively stall with “Guadagno-Rendo” signs stapled to the eaves, actually appeared to be by the time Guadagno strolled the fairgrounds, a very credible platoon of shock troops – equal to the forces deployed by the frontrunner.

Campaign season was in full gear in Rutherford.


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