Morris County Democratic Chairman Chip Robinson: the InsiderNJ Interview

Robinson

Chip Robinson remembers when the Democratic congressional candidate in the 11th District traveled around looking for votes on a bicycle.

Now the candidate has about $3 million to spend.

So, it’s probably kind of an understatement when Robinson says, “I feel very fortunate to be (Morris) county chairman when I am.”

Indeed.

Robinson was reelected chair of the Morris County Democratic Committee last month unopposed. In contrast, Morris Republicans, long the dominant party in this affluent county, had a nasty battle that new chair Ron DeFilippis won by a mere four votes.

Meeting over lunch in a diner in Hackensack, where Robinson has his law office, the chairman was upbeat, if not a bit fazed by the party’s seeming good fortune.

More Democrats voted in the District 11 congressional primary than Republicans. Ditto for Democrats in District 7, which includes western Morris.

He thinks the good times are just getting ready to start.

Robinson is confident Mikie Sherrill will win her District 11 congressional race over Republican Jay Webber. Many political observers agree, although people still have to vote.

But Robinson goes further.

“I think Tom Malinowski has a good chance of winning, much more than some other people think,” he said. Malinowski is challenging incumbent Republican Leonard Lance in District 7. This seems a heavier lift for
the Democrat. Robinson is also predicting that Democrats gain from 15 to 20 municipal seats this year and maybe – just maybe – win a freeholder seat, something they have not done for more than 40 years.

If the 38-year-old Robinson seems a bit giddy with anticipated success, it could be understandable. After all, just being considered competitive is a big advancement for Morris Dems. So once you have accomplished that, why not dream a little – or a lot?

To understand Robinson’s optimism, you have to grasp how far Morris Democrats seemingly have come. Or put another way, how moribund the party once was.

Robinson got involved in Morris Democratic politics as a young volunteer in the mid 1990’s.

Here are some names for you. John Scollo, Chris Evangel, Tom Wyka, James Buell, Vij Pawar.

They were all Democratic candidates for Congress from the 11th District. Some did better than others. Some tried harder than others.

But all were without much campaign money and thus, without much of a campaign.

The same was true for the county campaign.

At about the same time a congressional candidate was making the rounds on a bike, a Democratic freeholder candidate campaigned by standing on the side of the road at rush hour holding a homemade sign. Really.
Robinson is now talking about spending “six figures” on the county campaign. He also has his eyes on some municipal races.

He didn’t say which ones, but Democrats won last year in Morris Township and if they win again, they’ll control the town. There also has been increased Democratic activity in such normally Republican bastions as the Chathams and the Mendhams, Yes, this is New Jersey, a place infatuated with home rule. So, we have two Chathams (Township and Borough) and likewise two Mendhams.

Robinson, of course, deserves some credit for all this, but he’s also benefiting from forces beyond his control.

He says that the county has been changing demographically in the Democrats’ favor, but that “Trump has accelerated the process.”

Trump’s win seems to have organized the region’s political left, or maybe those who didn’t realize they were on the left, in ways no one could have imagined.

Robinson ticks off some of the liberal groups promoting Democratic candidates – NJ11th For Change, Blue Wave NJ and Chatham Moms for Change to name a few.

“All the enthusiasm, all the energy is on the Democratic side,”  he boasts.

He also opines that Morris Republicans are probably weaker than they have been in 25 years.

Robinson acknowledges Malinowski is unlikely to carry the Morris County section of the 7th District. But he hopes that he can get 45, or perhaps even 47, percent in Morris against Lance. If he does that, Robinson reasons he has a good of winning.

Whatever happens in the 7th, a Democratic win in the 11th would be good enough for the party.. And it would shake the state’s political establishment.

Which is exactly what former governor Chris Christie told the county Republican committee at a “unity breakfast” two weeks ago. He raised the alarming prospect of Democratic success in Morris to urge Republicans to come together after the primary.

Robinson thinks Dem fortunes look so good in the 11th that national Republican organizations may abandon Webber and spend their money elsewhere.

This would be a major kick in the gut for Webber, whose fundraising already lags far behind Sherrill’s.

But it’s unlikely to happen. The national Republican campaign committee, in fact, has made Webber one of its “young guns,” a distinction that suggests he’s in line for money and other resources from Washington.

Optimism is always great, but it still needs to be grounded in reality.

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One response to “Morris County Democratic Chairman Chip Robinson: the InsiderNJ Interview”

  1. Wouldn’t have been news if he said he DIDN’T think Malinowski would win? Not like you were interviewing some non-partisan here. He is the DEMOCRATIC chair. Do not see the news value here let alone featuring the quote in your morning newsletter. Of all the candidates the D’s have fielded in NJ Congressional Districts, Malinowski is the second worst. Kim in the Third is clearly not ready for prime time.

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