Jones Projects Confidence at Democratic Convention
The Meadowlands Racetrack was the venue for Thursday’s first day of the “Road Trip” State Democratic Party convention. Perhaps the location was a particularly appropriate choice, a place where, despite the best strategizing and number-analyzing, some win big and inevitably more still lose out. All politics is a gamble of sorts, and the payoffs and losses myriad, although in the political game, the stakes are high even for those who don’t play. While everyone has placed their bets, backing their respective horses, across New Jersey’s political arena, all eyes have been on the race that is Kean vs. Malinowski.
Regarding the convention itself, it is the product of “the new normal.” The lounge and bar area of the racetrack was well attended by Democrats federal, state, county, and local. Party chairs, elected officials, and their staffers were on hand for what was half-brunch, half-rally to kick off the convention in its “Road Trip” theme. It began in Bergen County, but the convention will move to Trenton, Asbury Park, and cyberspace.
“It’s a different convention from what we have done in the past,” Philip Swibinski, working on behalf of the chairman, said. “Usually, it’s been down in Atlantic City, but right now we’re in an interesting situation with COVID and we want to be sensitive to people who have varying degrees of comfort with crowded spaces. We also wanted to do something that gives everybody in the state an opportunity to come out and take part. There are also many virtual events that will allow people to participate in a way that they’re comfortable with. It’s something the chairman and his team, especially our executive directors, worked very hard to put together and we’re excited.”
Mimosas circulated among the politicos as they found their seats, some mugging for selfies, others delving right into the diner booth-style discussions that craft New Jersey’s future as much as any held within the secular temple of statehood in Trenton.
For the Democratic Party, led by State Chairman LeRoy Jones, the gamble is, in the short-term, for electoral success. For Democrats in the long-term, echoing the fiery rhetoric of CD-9 Congressman Bill Pascrell, up for grabs is democracy itself against an increasingly authoritarian opposition party. Pascrell further warned that “nothing is guaranteed” and, over the course of his address, urged Democrats to register new voters and get them to the polls above all else.
To that end, the congressman has a point. Pascrell pressed home the low voter turnout and lack of enthusiasm in the 2021 which hurt Democrats and emboldened the Republican Party. Governor Phil Murphy, initially assumed to be a safe win by pollsters and the party’s true-believers, only squeaked by against challenger Jack Ciattarelli.
Jones emceed the event, delivering the introductory remarks before inviting Congressman Pascrell up to speak. Pascrell spoke at length and was echoed by subsequent speakers such as Bergen County Chairman Juliano, Assembly Speaker Coughlin, and Vice Chair Schaffer, in highlighting the achievements of the Democratic Party and what they are up against in the new election, one which threatens a potential new “red wave” amid economic uncertainty, inflation, and gas prices which are starting to tick up again, not the least of which is due to an OPEC (largely Saudi-Russian) decision to reduce the output of petroleum—a decision Governor Phil Murphy blasted as targeting New Jersey’s working families.
The party leadership did not mention Congressman Jeff Van Drew by name at any time, but a referral to the “turncoat” by Schaffer was a signal that Democratic unity was critical going forward. “Democracy and the soul of America are both at stake. What is on the ballot are voting rights, choice, contraception, privacy, all of those things. If we don’t send back the 10 members of Congress we currently have, we are making a big mistake, and we are risking our children and our grandchildren, and the rights we have in this great country. New Jersey has an opportunity and ability to make that difference.”
There are 12 Congressional Districts in New Jersey, ten of which are held by Democrats. The Republicans are Van Drew in CD-2, a former Democrat and Trump-favorite. The other is Chris Smith in CD-4, at one time a Democrat as well before changing parties in the late 70s. These districts seem to have been written off, especially so given the impacts of redistricting from the Democrats’ map that was approved. The Democratic object appears to be to retain the incumbents, whatever it takes. With Van Drew and Smith solidified by the map, the most competitive race continues to be CD-7, where incumbent Congressman Tom Malinowski is facing off again against former State Senator Tom Kean, Jr.
Malinowski’s district became more Republican following the Democratic map approval, while those of Kim, Gottheimer, and Sherrill became safer for Democrats. CD-7, which had been represented by Leonard Lance until Malinowski flipped the district in 2018, became more Republican following redistricting, making what had been one of the closest elections in the state two years ago even more competitive. Malinowski himself even quipped about winning a “landslide of 1%.”
Should Malinkowski lose, the Democrats will still retain two-thirds of the New Jersey congressional delegation. Chairman Jones vehemently denied any assertion that the congressman, however, that Malinowski had been left out to dry by the powers-that-be.
“That is nowhere near accurate,” Jones told Insider NJ. “The process of redistricting worked its way through. There are going to be winners, some are going to be a bit compromised. That’s probably what happened. We are now at the point of reality with the challenges before us. In CD7 we made good strides. I think [Malinowski] is running a very robust campaign. Tom Kean is not his father. He won’t talk, he stays away from the real issues. He’s obviously afraid of Tom Malinowski. He has no message, he has no purpose, no principle as to doing what he says he wants to do.”
Jones said that the ground campaign was where Malinowski’s success would be decided, and for his part, the incumbent does have a strong and active base working for him. Whether or not it will be sufficient to turn back a broader, national atmosphere that seems to give Republicans confidence, especially with the shake-up in the party representation, remains to be seen. What is expected, though, is that whoever wins will not carry a sizable majority, potentially setting the state for CD-7 to remain competitive in future elections as well.
The campaigns have shifted back and forth on some of the hot-button topics of the moment, foremost the state of the economy and rising prices, but also the question of abortion following the Supreme Court decision to overturn the nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade. Kean, when pressed at a debate sponsored by the United Jewish Federation, said that he supported a woman’s right to choose in certain situations and generally up to 20 weeks. He said he voted “no” to codify Roe v. Wade in the state, however, since it would protect late-term abortions. As a result, those in favor of abortion rights would find no concrete evidence to protect them through Kean legislatively, and those opposed to abortion would take comfort from his voting record.
Jones nevertheless seemed confident of the outcome in November. “This campaign is going to be won by simply going to the people on the ground. That’s what we do as Democrats. We work hard, we know our program–we ID our voters,” he added, as there is an overwhelming belief among conservatives that the 2020 election was not secure, with a significant percentage subscribing to the Donald Trump-manufactured lie that the election itself was stolen. “We know where our base is, we know where our voters are, and we go get them on Election Day. That was going to happen, it may surprise a lot of people–all those naysayers that sit back and say, ‘the New Jersey Democratic Party did him wrong.’ No, what we are going to do is win an election and that’s what we do.”
Jones blistered Kean anew, particularly with respect to the former state senator’s unwillingness to talk to the media and make clear, pronounced statements on where he stands on the issues. “You have a duty as a candidate, and as an elected official as he was. You have to be responsible to the people that you want to elect you. If you want to represent, then you have to show people who you are, what you are, and why you want to represent them. He has not done any of that. He’s all he’s done is run and hide. He sticks his head in the sand. He almost turns out to be something close to an empty suit, I don’t mind saying that. If he wants to challenge that, I’ll be more than glad to deal with him on any day, at any time. He’s a disappointment. I thought he was a totally different person. That’s why I say he is not his father, and Tom Malinowski has depth, he has purpose, and he has delivered for the people of the Seventh District, the people of this state, and for the nation for that matter.”
There is no doubt that the Democratic Party will retain overall control of the state’s House representatives, and Jones can be assured that, for the time being, he and his party can be reasonably secure. However, in four weeks’ time, the voters of New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District will determine whether or not Jones’ optimism was wholly justified, or if a Red Wave aided by the realities of the redistricted map will drown the most vulnerable Democrat in the Garden State’s congressional delegation.
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When I got the invite I thought I would participate. When I asked around no one that I knew had heard anything about it.
When I sent an email asking for more specific details zooerstions mama get Kerry curtly responded just come to the front of 1 Racetrack and park.
And so I did.
The building looked like a construction zone. The roof looked storm damaged and the building was fenced off.
There were NO signs, there were no greeters at the huge parking lot to direct participants, attendees and invitees.
So, I called the contact number twice to no response. I sent emails and texts. Nada. Zip. Bupkiss till 7 pm when Operations Manager Kerry emailed “I do apologize “ I shut my phone off. Wanna come to the other planned events?
Never mind, I will remain registered unaffiliated and skip the mimosas, track side booths and para mutual insiders club thx.
Operations Manager Kerry.