The most significant political event of the week in New Jersey went virtually unnoticed. In an interview published in POLITICO last Thursday with New Jersey political columnist Matt Friedman, Essex County Democratic Party Chair and Democratic State Committee Chair candidate LeRoy Jones pledged his support to the reelection effort of Governor Phil Murphy should he choose to so run. (https://www.politico.com/states/new-jersey/story/2019/12/05/jones-even-if-murphy-has-a-primary-ill-back-him-as-state-chair-1230752) He said he would make this endorsement both as state Democratic chair and as Essex County Chair.
Phil Murphy will continue with his efforts to reelect as State Democratic Chair John Currie, who also serves as Democratic chair of Passaic County. Murphy does not, however, need to concern himself that a Jones victory will result in a credible Norcross-Sweeney challenge to his 2021 gubernatorial reelection. And regardless of the outcome of the State Democratic Chair contest, Murphy will have the solid support and assistance of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee in Campaign 2021.
In addition, one should keep in mind that Jones and Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo are close allies who usually endorse the same candidates. So we can expect a DiVincenzo endorsement of Murphy in the not too distant future. This augurs well operationally for Murphy achieving his desired Essex County margins on Election Day 2021.
Not that Sweeney and Norcross ever had any chance of depriving Murphy of his reelection.
The Monmouth University polls taken this past September showed Phil Murphy and US Senator Cory Booker with identical 71-11 favorability ratings among their fellow Democratic voters. If you are an incumbent Democrat, you are not going to lose in a primary with a favorability margin of this magnitude.
And Murphy’s political strength was substantially increased by the results of the 2019 elections, while the Sweeney-Norcross tandem suffered a significant reverse.
Murphy chose to make his top priority gaining control of the freeholder board in Somerset County, knowing that the party that controls the governing board of the county also controls its politics.
Sweeney and Norcross chose to make their major political priorities 1) the Democratic retention of the Senate and Assembly seats in Legislative District One (Cumberland-Cape May); and 2) the capture from the GOP of the two Assembly seats in District Eight (Burlington).
Murphy emerged as a big winner, adding the Somerset triumph to the Burlington County takeover the Democrats achieved under his leadership in 2018.
The Sweeney-Norcross coterie lost both its 2019 priority election battles and now gives the appearance of diminished political potency.
The year 2020 promises to be the political Days of Wine and Roses for Phil Murphy. He has already emerged as a national political player due to his status as chair as the Democratic Governors Association. He will be a star of the Biden campaign and find himself being considered if Biden wins for various top-rank administration positions. The latest speculation is that Murphy would be considered for the most important ambassadorship, to wit, Ambassador to China. Murphy already has the requisite diplomatic and foreign policy skills, having gained same during his previous service as Ambassador to Germany.
For the Norcross/Sweeney tandem, 2020 promises to be a year of nightmare. Norcross is used to fighting and winning conventional political wars. He now faces a political guerrilla war in his South Jersey backyard in which he will duel with the South Jersey Progressive Left forces led by Sue Altman and Kate Delany. This will be a long duration political Vietnam.
As for the very underrated Phil Murphy, the words of my former boss in the White House, George W. Bush definitely apply: Don’t misunderestimate him.
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.