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Will Rogers once pointed out that people often get excited over a campaign only to wonder six months later what the excitement was all about. This is extremely true of Cory Booker’s one-time campaign for president. Underfunded and clearly routinely showing poorly in the polls, Booker’s campaign staggered along like a drunk, waiting for a time and place to fall down. Booker’s withdrawing from the presidential race may largely prove a relief for Hudson County officials, who appear to have been under the thumb of U.S. Senator Robert Menendez to back Booker over other candidates.
While earlier this year, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise and his daughter, Amy DeGise – chair of the Hudson County Democratic Organization – appeared to prefer candidates other than Booker, pressure from above appeared to have put them temporarily on the Booker bandwagon – even if they secretly didn’t believe Booker could beat Donald Trump in the general election.
Now with nobody singing the old Rolling Stones song, “Under my Thumb,” local officials can breathe a little bit easier and can afford to wait out the result of earlier primaries to see if their particular favorite candidate survives until the New Jersey primary in June.
Although Tom DeGise has expressed interest in supporting Joe Biden, he said this week that he will support any Democrat that he believes can beat Trump.
Without Booker as a distraction, Democrats in Hudson County can get ready for their own elections – Booker will be at the top of the Democratic ticket in the June primary seeking reelection as senator not president.
Freeholder Bill O’Dea pointed out an important difference between the 2020 primary and the hotly contested 2008 primary that forced local officials to decide between Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama.
“In 2008, New Jersey moved its primary up to February,” O’Dea said. “This forced people to have to decide sooner.”
Then Jersey City Councilman Steven Fulop and Menendez supported Clinton, while the mayors of Jersey City, Bayonne and other municipalities backed Barack Obama.
“With the primary in June, people can afford to wait and see who is still viable,” O’Dea said. “Instead of having to decide early, they can wait until March or even April to decide.”
But Hudson County Democrats may still be split if the top three candidates are still in the mix. While many mainstream Democrats like Tom DeGise and several other mayors believe Biden is their candidate, more progressive Democrats might find themselves torn if they have to choose between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
“I met Biden once,” said Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis. “I liked him.”
But it is still too early to know which candidate has the best chance of beating Trump.
Rogers in reflecting on elections in the 1930s may well have summed up the Democrat dilemma when he pointed out how the party out of power presumed early on that they could win with almost anybody, and may not be able to find anyone who can win.
“Whoever is the Democratic candidate, we’re going to have to come together behind that person,” Tom DeGise said. “Nearly all of the Democratic candidate are better than the person who is in the White House now.”
While Tom and his daughter, Amy, might be able to get on the same page when the time comes, it is hard to tell whether Biden Democrats will back Warren, Sanders or another candidate, or stay home if their candidate doesn’t get the nomination.
Towns like Bayonne, Secaucus, and Kearny are considered more conservative than Hoboken or even Jersey City – and even Hoboken is no longer the bastion of liberal ideology even though its town council is. A huge percentage of Hoboken voters went for Trump in 2016.
The presidential primary should not affect local primary results since the presidential candidates do not head the official Democratic line.
“Booker will be on the top of the HCDO ticket in the primary,” Tom DeGise said.
So, we’re not going to hear that old Richard Nixon line about not having Booker to kick around anymore, although Booker may find opposition in the primary from elsewhere in the state. And the GOP is already gearing up to take on Spartacus in the general election in November.
Backing from the HCDO, however, will help the presidential candidate win the county, and so if the race is too close to call by the time spring comes along, you can bet you’ll find the primary candidates beating the bushes for votes here.
Who Menendez backs will matter, as will the backing of mayors of Jersey City, Union City and North Bergen.
“I haven’t talked to anyone since Booker announced he’s no longer running but I will be,” Tom DeGise said. “We’re all going to be talking about this.”