There is always a bit of bravado at victory parties and as Republicans celebrated some big primary wins Tuesday night in Morris County, talk turned to November.
Yes, we can, was the prevailing view.
That would be to win control of the Legislature where Democrats now hold advantages of 25-15 in the Senate and 46-34 in the Assembly. You know by just looking at the numbers, that this is going to be quite the challenge.
But as some maintained the other night, New Jerseyans are “fed up” with all sorts of things big and small. This includes inflation, school curriculum, dead whales washing up on beaches and rowdy kids down the shore.
Democrats like to say Republicans are the “extreme party,” but here in the Garden State, the reverse is true. That, at least, was what one heard Tuesday night.
A more official communique in this regard came from the Republican State Legislative Committee. Here it is:
“New Jersey families have had enough of the Democrat trifecta of power in Trenton that has led to burdensome tax hikes, skyrocketing crime and the worst business climate in the country. Tonight’s primary signals the beginning of change for eager New Jerseyans ready for state Republicans to lead the charge and pass common sense solutions. The RSLC was proud to make a significant five-figure investment in New Jersey to support our nominees earlier than ever, a commitment made after the 2022 election cycle, so we can continue to build off our previous success in 2021.”
All that is well and good, but by any realistic analysis, Republicans winning control of even one house of the Legislature seems doubtful.
The overriding problem has little to do with Democrats and Republicans, or if you prefer, liberals and conservatives.
It’s greater than that. Most people don’t care about the state Legislature. This has long been the case in New Jersey, but it’s now worse than ever.
A quick look at some of the turnout numbers from Tuesday show how dismal things are.
The turnout in Morris was about 12 percent, which by comparison to other counties, was actually pretty good.
It was a shade under 10 percent in Democratic Essex, but also a shade under 10 percent in Republican Ocean.
And in Bergen, the largest county in the state, turnout was less than 5 percent. That seems hard to believe, but that’s what the numbers say.
The relevancy of all this is that if Republicans and right-leaning independents were truly “fed up,” logic suggests more of them would have voted on Tuesday. They did not.
The GOP’s registration disadvantage in the state is slightly less than 1 million. So, to win the Legislature this fall, Republicans need a massive turnout of their voters.
Hard to see that happening judging by the anemic primary participation.
Traditionally, observers have attributed public indifference to state political affairs to the lack of a New Jersey commercial TV station.
That is no longer the case, but a related issue has surfaced – scant newspaper coverage.
The Gannett chain and the Star-Ledger provided very little primary coverage and that’s being polite. When newspaper readers, who are likely voters, know little about an upcoming election an abysmal turnout is predictable.
This is not the fault of reporters. Put the blame on corporate higher-ups who think identifying the best place in town to get a meatball sandwich is more significant than writing about candidates who want to deal with taxes, schools and overall quality of life. That type of thinking is unlikely to change, which brings us to a kind of Catch 22. As newspapers become more irrelevant, even what they do cover becomes less significant as readers vanish.
So, the public knows – and cares – less and less about state government.
Back to the original premise.
To truly have a chance of winning big this fall, Republicans need to overcome a huge numerical disadvantage plus an apathetic public.