Let’s Keep Focus on “The Line” in NJ Politics

Tammy Murphy

The debate over “The Line” has long raged in NJ with political insiders defending “The Line” and gatecrashers decrying the practice as undemocratic. I happen to think The Line corrupts the democratic process in NJ. But that’s just me. 

Whenever a debate about The Line and New Jersey’s ballot design breaks out, my thoughts go back to 2008 when former Congressman Rob Andrew launchd a primary election campaign to unseat incumbent US Senator Frank Lautenberg.

If you’re not in-the-know, The Line is where you want to be on the ballot if you’re running for office in New Jersey. Candidates granted The Line by NJ’s political gatekeepers are almost assured of victory, especially in a primary election. That’s why NJ’s powerful political machines invest so much time and treasure into determining who gets the line and (perhaps more importantly) who doesn’t.

Rob had a solid record on weed and LGBT rights and I really liked him. I still like him. And so I drank the Kool Aid and was decidedly hung ho for that particular fight.

Unseating a sitting Senator is hard. And even though the odds were long, Rob and his supporters envisioned a path to victory in that race. That path, especially narrow for a South Jersey politician, included premium ballot placement (aka The Line) in Bergen County.

The ex-chairman of the Bergen Democrats (who’s subsequently been convicted of corruption) had a cozy enough relationship with the Camden Democrats running Rob’s campaign that we thought we might score The Line in Bergen, the most populous of NJ’s 21 counties.

If Bergen went our way, Essex might too, we reasoned.

On Rob’s 2008 Senate campaign, I was the so-called “New Media Manager,” something akin to a Director of Social Media in today’s parlance. But as it turns out, I was also the campaign’s Recycling Director as well.

I was surprised the Camden Democrats recycled only sporadically so I setup a crude recycling system to raise the bar a notch or two. Most days, I spent a half hour breaking down boxes and stomping soda cans flat. Recycling was not part of the job description but my OCD made it easy and besides, it gave me time to reflect on how we win this uphill Senate race.

So that’s what I was doing when it felt – and sounded – like something exploded in the attic. There was big CRASH BOOM followed by the sound of broken glass. Lots of broken glass.

It crossed my mind that maybe a car crashed into the building.

It wasn’t a car crash. And the only thing that exploded was someone’s temper.

As it turns out, just a few feet away, on the other side of the drywall, some very bad news arrived.

And that loud boom was, I concluded, someone reacting to the very bad news that our North Jersey line-poaching strategy had collapsed.

No one actually came out and said “Lautenberg got The Line in all of North Jersey and there’s no way South Jersey can overcome North Jersey’s numbers.”

I had to connect those dots on my own. And when I did it was devastating because I knew we needed The Line in Bergen and/or Essex to have a chance.

Although Rob swept the South Jersey counties where he had The Line, we lost decisively. Having secured The Line in counties where roughly 2/3 of NJ’s population lives, Lautenberg won roughly 2/3 of the vote on Election Day, a relative blowout.

The Line, it would appear, worked exactly as designed.

I believe Camden Democrats know better than anyone that The Line is by far and away the most valuable real estate on the ballot in New Jersey.

Something tells me Tammy Murphy knows it too.

Tammy Murphy for Senate

New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy wants the Senate seat of Bob Menendez, a man she and Gov. Phil Murphy once enthusiastically supported (despite Menendez’ long and dodgy ethical track record.)

Stressing her work lowering mortality rates for Black women and children during childbirth, Mrs. Murphy, a registered Republican less than a decade ago, leapfrogged several Black women (Bonnie Watson Coleman, Shavonda Sumter, Britnee Timberlake) to land at the front of the queue to replace Menendez.

And although she might not win a snapshot poll of Democratic primary voters, there are institutional reasons why Mrs. Murphy may be favored to win the Democratic primary election in June, 2024.

First of all, every elected Democrat in New Jersey is surely feeling some kind of pressure, tacit or otherwise, to endorse the Governor’s wife if they haven’t already.

Here’s how an honest endorsement should sound:

“I endorsed Tammy Murphy because I’m a (mayor/state lawmaker/County Commissioner) and we have a bunch of business before the state that the Governor could squash if he felt slighted by my lack of endorsement. This is the nature of cutthroat politics here in New Jersey and I’m really just playing the game to try to best help my (town/county/district) and advance my own political ambitions.“

You won’t hear anything approaching that level of candor.

But you will notice lots of democratic goose-stepping if you haven’t already.

And BTW, wouldn’t it be something if New Jersey Democrats fought for their values as hard as they fight for themselves (and their wives?)

Most of NJ’s Democratic ruling class tripped over itself to coronate the Governor’s wife.

But those same Democrats still can’t ban indoor smoking in casinos after 20 years of trying and failing?

A decade after legalizing medical cannabis and we’re still incarcerating sick people who grow their own weed?

How are we supposed to feel about the apparent coronation of Mrs. Murphy by the same democrats who can’t do the basics for their voters?

Perhaps that’s why discontent about The Line is at an all time high.

And the NJ Democratic Party’s rubber-stamping of Mrs. Murphy’s Senate campaign has thrust The Line and NJ’s ballot design into the national spotlight.

Within days of announcing her bid to replace Bob Menendez, Mrs. Murphy had sewn up The Line in the most Democratic-rich counties in the state: Hudson, Essex, Bergen and (surprise surprise!) Camden County.

I believe that securing The Line is probably Mrs. Murphy’s only shot to win this race and her supporters know it (even if they won’t admit it.)

Back in 2008….

One of Congressman Rob Andrews’ most durable taking points was that New Jersey’s US Senators have often treated South Jersey like an afterthought.

Congressman Andy Kim of South Jersey (ahem) was the first to declare his campaign for US Senate when the latest round of Menendez drama blew up. So watching the Camden Democrats so quickly ratify North Jersey’s Tammy Murphy was ironic but not particularly surprising.

Charts & Graphs

Memory can be fickle and a lot of time has passed since Rob Andrews ran for Senate back in 2008. So let’s bolster my thesis that The Line is legalized corruption with some exceedingly grim voter turnout data.

According to Winn Khuong, Executive Director of Action Together New Jersey, The Line dampens voter turnout.

“Look at the voter turnout percentages in NJ’s primary elections versus other states,” Ms. Khuong told InsiderNJ. “When voters don’t have a competitive primary, voters don’t vote.”

She’s right.

According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, turnout rates for NJ midterm primary elections are abysmally low, between 8%-12% over the past four cycles (See pages 29-21)

With Kansas topping the list (see page 11) NJ lands very near the bottom in 44th (out of 50 states) for voter turnout in midterm primaries like the one to replace Bob Menendez.

“The Line is a gatekeeper,” Mr. Khuong observed. “It keeps out candidates who don’t have the money or the connections to run. Once a candidate hears that someone already has endorsements from the county chair, they do the math and bow out.”

We’ll give the final word to Dr. Julia Sass Rubin, associate professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy where she also directs the Public Policy Program.

Dr. Rubin’s voluminous academic research of The Line (and its consequences) make her NJ’s most credible voice on the topic.

“I found that a candidate did an average of 35 percentage points better when they were on the county line than when their opponent was on the county line,” Dr. Rubin told NJ Spotlight News. “In analyzing 20 years of U.S. House and Senate elections, I found that this average was 38 percentage points.”



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5 responses to “Let’s Keep Focus on “The Line” in NJ Politics”

  1. I’m truly disgusted by the way this election polls are run in New Jersey. It’s not a democracy at its best when harassment is perceived by the highest office in the state. Not a bit. I beleivethe First Lady should get out of that race now!

  2. As a former New Jersey citizen involved in politics and political litigation, one of my former legal team members (a Democrat) said that elections in NJ-especially primary elections- are an illusion. He said that once the County leaders chose a candidate, the “voting is just a formality”.

  3. Dems wonder how in the world someone like Trump could rise to power. All he has to do is point to nonsense like this. The general public rightly can deduce that ALL politicians are corrupt.

  4. We don’t need the Carpetbaggers (from Massachusetts) running our state. Governor Phil KNUCKLEHEAD Murphy was the quinessential carpetbagger from Massachusetts. He was appointed to the N.J.
    Governorship by former Democrat Resident Barack Obama, whom Phil worked for as Ambassador to Germany. Along with the fraudulent computer voting system, and the ballot stuffing in the big Democrat counties like Bergen & Essex, Murphy won 2 terms in New Jersey–even though he’s a hedge fund trader and multi-millionaire from Boston. He’s not even a NY Yankees or NY Giants/Jets fan. Murphy didn’t care about New Jerseyans. He pushed his radical Socialist-Communist agenda of the “Green Raw Deal”, basically initiated total gun ban in NJ (until it’s overturned in the courts in the next administration), and turned NJ into a sanctuary state for illegals (but is now backtracking saying we don’t want the illegals–an upcoming election ploy). He doubled the budget from the time of Chris Christie and saddeled New Jerseyans with the highest property & income taxes in the nation, 6th highest sales tax in the nation, and worst regulatory scheme against small businesses in the nation (even worse than California).

    Now, Phil and his Democrat cabal in Trenton and the Democrat Counties want you to vote for his wife to be U.S. Senator for New Jersey. Phil and Tammy both need to leave New Jersey upon the completion of his 2nd term in 2025. We don’t need Tammy and her socialist-communist ideals for New Jersey anymore. Time to bring sanity back to a blue state whose majority population is RED!

  5. Jay,
    Thanks for informing and educating voters on how “The Line” corrupts the democratic process in New Jersey’s elections. Please continue to inform and educate voters about our undemocratic ballot. Sometimes you have to say it a thousand times before people understand it.

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