Kim Guadagno’s Savvy Debate Twofer: Ronald Reagan and Camden in One “Shining City on a Hill”

Kean and Guadagno

Quick: how do you throw a bone to your Republican base while simultaneously catching the attention – and tugging on the heartstrings – of a random South Jersey Democratic Party operative who may otherwise have little feeling for this apparently moribund election cycle?

You call Camden a shining city on a hill, which is what Republican gubernatorial candidate Kim Guadagno did at last night’s debate.

As pure political rhetoric, the quote immediately accomplishes two things.

First, it gets Ronald Reagan devotees teary eyed. It’s Reagan’s quote about America, of course, as close to Republican hearts as Kennedy’s Camelot is to Democrats. That’s good stuff in a D v. R general election. Second, it makes a play for that same Democratic Party establishment that played footsy with Republican Gov. Chris Christie for eight years.

South Jersey is not thrilled with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy. They say they are. They have fundraisers for him and Alec Baldwin. He occupies the top of the ticket so from a strictly mechanical standpoint they need him to perform well for smooth elections operations. A piece like this is probably good for an angry phone call – or two – from some incredulous-sounding operative kicked in the rear and made to spin the narrative that the south loves Murphy and will – to quote another former Prez, Bill Clinton – be with him “till the last dog dies.”

Guadagno knows better, though; she knows where the fault lines lie, and knows how to devilishly needle a Democratic Party sore spot.

South Jersey Democrats may say they absolutely love Murphy, but consider the fact that the northern chairs originally closed ranks around Murph in order to prevent the ascent of Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) to the Governor’s Mansion and the re-empowerment – at new levels of electrical currency – of South Jersey Democratic Party boss George Norcross III. Consider too, the concentration of votes in the North, critical to Murphy GOTV. Oh, they’ll be in Camden too, and Atlantic City, His message resounds there, or so they hope.

But suburban Democrats, including those in South Jersey communities, continue to be nervous about Guadagno’s ability to get in and hound Murphy on taxes.

“It’s an eight point race,” a source on the ground groaned to InsiderNJ this past weekend, referring to the gubernatorial contest. “The polls say double digits, but they’re wrong. It’s eight points, as of right now.”

It shouldn’t be, the source was quick to note, somewhat bitterly, but it is.

These are the same Camden County-centered people who always had a spare vote to chip in when Christie needed help; the same people protected against a possible GOP avalanche with a surging Christie at the top of the ticket in 2013 when the Republican governor chose not to campaign for Republicans in South Jersey districts that had – by the reckoning at the time of Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-21) – real potential for Republican challengers.

Guadagno knows that.

Now she doesn’t want to alienate those Christie-disappointed Republicans by making the direct pitch to that same cross-the-aisle political network that kept Christie confidently in charge for eight years.

So she uses – of all things – a Reagan chestnut.

But – in a nice oratorical twist aimed at giving pause to that wing of the Democratic Party that’s done just fine with a Republican in Drumthwacket – plants it on Camden.


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