The major story thus far of New Jersey Campaign 2017 has been the emergence of Jack Ciattarelli as a competitive candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. This is a tribute to his superb communication and policy skills and the flawless campaign run by consultant and chief strategist Chris Russell and campaign manager Rick Rosenberg.
I have a penchant for making analogies between political campaigns and famous sports teams. In this regard, the Ciattarelli campaign reminds me of baseball’s National League pennant winning 1951 New York Giants, who moved to San Francisco prior to the 1958 season.
The 1951 Giants played in the big green bathtub, the late, lamented Polo Grounds. They started the season as overwhelming underdogs to the fabled Brooklyn Dodgers, who absconded to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. Similarly, Jack began this campaign as a huge underdog to Kim Guadagno.
The Dodgers, like Guadagno, opened a huge lead over the Giants. By mid-August, they led the Giants by 13.5 games.
Then, the Giants came back. Beginning in mid-August, they won 37 of 44 games and finished the season in a tie with the Dodgers. The Giants won the pennant by winning the third game of the playoff 5-4, on Bobby Thomson’s three run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, the famous “shot heard ‘round the world.”
Although Jack Ciattarelli has significantly reduced Kim Guadagno’s lead, he remains an underdog, due to her head start in both fundraising and recruiting support from state GOP officials. Jack gained momentum, however, during his winning streak at the various GOP county conventions, similar to the Giants’ aforesaid 37 out of 44 winning streak in 1951. And now that he has qualified for matching funds, Jack has the “mo”, and Jack has the dough!
Even if Jack fails to overtake Kim in the primary, there are already remarkable similarities between his campaign and the 1951 Giants’ pennant drive.
The Giants’ manager, Leo Durocher, was the finest baseball strategist of his time. And Chris Russell is the top GOP political strategist in New Jersey.
Team captain and shortstop Alvin Dark was the “glue man” who held the team together during its pennant drive. And Rick Rosenberg is an excellent chief operating officer who has made sure that all campaign activities are well coordinated with each other.
Power was supplied to the 1951 Giants by left fielder Monte Irvin and third baseman Bobby Thomson. Power has been provided to the Ciattarelli campaign by Somerset County Chair Al Gaburo and Burlington County Chair Bill Layton.
The Giants’ catcher, Wes Westrum, knew the “book” on all the hitters in the National League. Ciattarelli friend and advisor Dale Florio can advise Jack on “the book” on all Trenton “insiders”.
The Giants games were broadcast by the legendary Russ Hodges. Ace pollster Brock McCleary delivers to the media and supporters the score of the Ciattarelli campaign.
Jack plays many roles in his own campaign similar to those of the various players on the 1951 Giants. As a candidate, he is both “pitching” and “hitting.” He pitches with the speed and toughness of Sal “the Barber” Maglie. He hits with the consistency of Giants’ first baseman Whitey Lockman and right fielder Don “Mandrake” Mueller. He has shown a remarkable versatility on issue competency, similar to the baseball versatility of Giants’ all-time great and 1951 Rookie of the Year Willie Mays. And in overcoming the seemingly insurmountable obstacles early in the campaign, Jack displayed the determination and grittiness of second baseman Eddie Stanky.
As I have written in a previous column, if Jack loses this campaign, he still is putting himself in a strong position for the GOP gubernatorial nod in 2021. The Ciattarelli campaign brass and candidate, however, are determined to win here and now in 2017. They are determined to duplicate the 1951 New York Giants’ “Miracle at Coogan’s Bluff’. And the way they have been playing, I refuse to write off their chances.
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