I know the first question of my younger readers: Who the hell is Jimmy Cannon?
Jimmy Cannon, who passed away in 1973, was one of the two greatest sports print journalists in my lifetime, the other being Roger Kahn, author of the American classic about the Jackie Robinson-era Brooklyn Dodgers, The Boys of Summer.
There were two unique genres of Jimmy’s New York Post columns. The first consisted of his periodic columns entitled “Nobody asked me, but…” These columns contained a series of one sentence paragraphs, giving his concise views on sports topics of the day. The second consisted of his columns profiling sports executives and athletes, all of which began with the words, “You’re (name of athlete or sports executive).
In this second genre of columns, Jimmy would try to view issues and events from the perspective of the person profiled. The most famous of these columns was his piece, “You’re Don Larsen,” published on October 9, 1956, the day after New York Yankee Larsen pitched his Game 5 World Series 97-pitch perfect game 2-0 victory, defeating Sal “The Barber” Maglie and my late, lamented Brooklyn Dodgers.
I like Kim Guadagno, and I have a high professional and personal regard for her. I know that this is far from an easy time for her, with the media, political pundits and players speaking dismissively of her and her prospects in the November gubernatorial election.
She deserves much more respect than this, and in that spirit, I am writing this column in the style of Jimmy Cannon, beginning with the words, as he would –
YOU’RE KIM GUADAGNO.
You have just won the Republican primary for New Jersey governor, which many political insiders deem tantamount to winning a ticket aboard the Lusitania in 1915. The post-primary Quinnipiac Poll shows Democratic candidate Phil Murphy leading you by an over 2-1 margin, 55-26.
You are not the problem, however. Your campaign is endangered by two political toxins, the Republican president, Donald Trump and the incumbent Republican New Jersey governor, Chris Christie.
The Donald Trump values of xenophobia, misogyny, polarization, civil liberty suppression, and general intolerance are anathema to New Jersey voters – and yours as well. The record of Chris Christie of policy failure and ethical misfeasance and malfeasance is repugnant to the overwhelming majority of New Jerseyans, as shown by the polls. The best part of the Christie record is your achievement as Lieutenant Governor on small business and deregulatory matters, but few voters are aware of your role. And the Quinnipiac Poll shows that in New Jersey, it is a far worse stigma to have worked for Chris Christie than Goldman Sachs.
You therefore can only win this election if Phil Murphy has a political meltdown. Yet such meltdowns have happened before. A perfect case in point is the presidential election of 1976. Jerry Ford was politically handicapped by the legacy of Nixon and Watergate, just as you are by the two-headed albatross of Trump-Christie. After the Democratic National Convention, Jimmy Carter had a seemingly insurmountable lead of 30 points. Carter was a deeply flawed candidate, however, and he just barely won the election by a margin of less than three points. Who knows -Phil Murphy is far from being a political savant, and he could be New Jersey’s answer to Jimmy Carter.
Your campaign thus must have the focus of being in a strong position to benefit from a Phil Murphy meltdown. In that regard, there are a number of things you can do to enhance your chances. Again, to paraphrase Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but the following is a list of some measures that could palpably benefit your poll ratings:
1. Get UN Ambassador Nikki Haley to campaign for you. I believe that as a presidential appointee confirmed by the Senate, she is partially exempt from the Hatch Act and permitted to engage in partisan campaigns, subject to certain restrictions. As governor of South Carolina, she made history and struck a blow for racial tolerance and understanding by removing the Confederate flags from state buildings. She is an exemplar of Tom Kean’s politics of inclusion, which was the greatest enhancer of the Republican brand in modern New Jersey political history.
2. Vigorously attack Christie’s acts of misfeasance and malfeasance every chance you get. A perfect opportunity: The attempt by Christie to change the method of selection of the Horizon BCBS board in a way that will enable avaricious power players to take it over by means of a proxy battle to elect the public members. Such forceful criticism on your part will remind the voters that you are not Chris Christie.
3. Keep a list of all the promises Phil Murphy makes, and ask him rhetorically how he will pay for them without a tax increase.
4. Select Jack Ciattarelli as your running mate for lieutenant governor and adopt his education funding message.
In view of the pessimistic state of New Jersey Republican voters this year, it is remarkable how both you and Jack were able to energize your primary supporters. By merging your “troops,”. you can have a spirited and highly motivated army of general election supporters.
The excessive funding of urban school districts at the expense of the suburbs, resulting in unaffordable skyrocketing suburban property taxes, is the most effective GOP New Jersey issue. Jack’s reallocation formula message in the primary was a key in his emergence as your most serious primary challenger. Together, you two can most effectively communicate this message and make it a winning issue.
- Forget about the flap over the selection of the NJGOP chair. Mike Lavery will be an excellent chair, thank you. I had to laugh at the reports of Bill Palatucci labeling your chair selection process as “amateur hour.” During the past eight years, Bill Palatucci was perceived to be the de facto leader of the New Jersey Republican Party and Christie’s closest confidant. During that period of time, the New Jersey Republican Party suffered its worst brand damage in modern New Jersey political history. Case closed with regard to Bill Palatucci. You and Mike Lavery can lead the NJGOP out of the darkness of the Christie-Palatucci era into a new era of NJGOP hope and opportunity.
- Learn to ignore those of your advisors who, as prisoners of conventional wisdom, counsel caution and patience. Right now, you are like the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 51, who trailed the Atlanta Falcons 28-3 in the third quarter. Tom Brady did not lead the Patriots to an historic sudden death comeback victory by a game plan of caution and patience. You can be bold and courageous without being irresponsible.
My late dear friend, Steve Salmore, along with his wife, Barbara, authored the leading university level textbook on New Jersey politics. Steve used to say that candidates get the campaigns they deserve.
To paraphrase Jimmy Cannon, you’re Kim Guadagno, and you deserve a good campaign. Go for it!
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.