When I was a political reporter for The Associated Press covering the 2005 and 2009 governor’s races, I seriously contemplated not voting. I would be covering the administration of whomever won, I reasoned, so I wondered if my objectivity would be tainted if I cast a vote for one or the other major-party candidate. I also thought about writing in another name.
But I also knew that I always voted, I’d feel bad if I didn’t vote, and, having covered the race and sat with the candidates individually, I knew more about them than 99 percent of the residents who would vote. How could I throw that knowledge – and my civic duty – aside?
Most voters on Tuesday don’t know Phil Murphy or Kim Guadagno and their running mates, and they haven’t paid a lick of attention to the race. But they do have at their fingertips a wealth of information about the candidates that many will never read as they ignore their responsibility to pick a new state leader at this critical juncture for our economy, education system, and environment.
Endorsements. Every major newspaper in the region has weighed in on the New Jersey governor’s race; the only other gubernatorial contest this year being in Virginia. Endorsements by newspaper editorial boards can be a significant resource for voters on the fence about whom to choose. They are carefully thought-out pieces by editors who have studied the candidates and know the issues well. Editors have excellent BS meters; their endorsements pick apart candidate spin and offer insights (often cynically) on what – if anything – each candidate brings to the job.
Most – but not all – have chosen Murphy as the candidate better equipped to steer New Jersey away from what they see as the train-wreck of Chris Christie’s administration. The Record’s editorial added Murphy’s perceived superior ability to “push back against federal policies and congressional actions that will negatively impact New Jersey.” The New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, the first statewide environmental group to back Murphy, also sees his national leadership potential as someone able to push back against President Trump’s destructive environmental agenda.
Offering the opposing view was the Asbury Park Press, which counted Guadagno’s experience as Christie’s deputy as a plus in its calculation that she is best equipped to address what “New Jersey residents have long regarded as the state’s number one issue — crushing property taxes.” Its editorial was mum on the environment, though Guadagno has set the bar higher by promising to rejoin the regional greenhouse reduction pact that her boss pulled New Jersey out of on the bet that it would help his presidential chances.
Special-interest groups have also aligned themselves with a candidate. If you’re a laborer, teacher, or environmental advocate, you’ll want to know that Murphy’s in your camp. Guadagno, on the other hand, is banking on her eight years of advocacy for New Jersey’s business community, her promotion of the state’s $40 billion tourism industry, and accessibility (she has given practically every New Jerseyan her personal cell phone number) to win her votes.
Debates. Voters also got ample opportunity to hear the entire gubernatorial slate (Murphy and Guadagno and their respective running mates, Sheila Oliver and Carlos Rendo) in three televised debates. While these encounters cannot be mistaken for Emmy-winning TV, they are nonetheless worth the time. All three are available on Youtube.com, and provide clarity on where the candidates stand on a wide range of serious issues – from education to guns – and issues of less consequence, like “what’s your favorite fruit and vegetable?”
Less than 10 days before the election, more than half of likely voters in a Monmouth University poll didn’t know enough about the views expressed by Murphy and Guadagno to say whether they align with their own. I won’t even guess how few people know about the state public questions on the ballot: one to fund public libraries and one to ensure that pollution settlements are not diverted from the communities where the pollution occurred.
Predictions about low voter turnout now hinge on apathy, not weather: Record low turnout is predicted though the forecast is for 55 degrees and partly sunny skies. Monmouth’s Patrick Murray says even those who do vote may just be pushing levers “without having a clear idea what either candidate actually stands for.”
There’s still time to make intelligent choices on Tuesday. One is to vote. The other is to know who and what your vote supports.
Delli Santi is a former political reporter for The Associated Press who currently is communications director for New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.