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MOUNTAIN LAKES – Phil Murphy was clearly feeling emboldened.
Here he was Wednesday night looking out at about 300 loyal Morris County Democrats at the party’s “fall gala” at The Mansion at Mountain Lakes catering hall. A few years ago, Morris Dems would have been lucky to get half as many to an event.
Seizing on that, the governor speculated that if local Republicans saw a picture of so many energetic Democrats congregating on a rainy night, “they would run like hell.” Out of fright presumably.
The governor had gotten carried away a bit, but it was understandable. After winning the two congressional seats representing Morris last year, Democrats want more.
Murphy said the party leadership should never be afraid to venture into a “red” county, adding,”We care about every place, every step on the ballot, every vote.”
The happy rhetoric aside, Republicans still hold nearly a 30,000 lead among registered voters in Morris. What’s more, they remain in control of all county-wide offices. And even when Democrats were winning congressional seats last year, three Republicans held on to their freeholder positions.
Democratic optimism stems from a belief the “winds of change” are moving in their direction. That was certainly the case last year, but whether we see a repeat performance in what promises to be a low turnout election is questionable.
The most attention this fall seems to be focused on legislative District 25. Democrats Lisa Bhimani and Darcy Draeger are well funded and have already started running TV ads.
The Republicans are newcomer Brian Bergen and incumbent Anthony M. Bucco, but things are more complicated than they seem. Bucco is expected to be picked to replace his late father in the Senate later this month. But he appears determined to stay on the Assembly ballot with plans to resign if he wins.
The idea of Bucco seeking an office he doesn’t intend to accept gives Dems a lot of ammunition.
John Currie, the chair of the state Democratic Committee, agreed. Currie, who was at Wednesday’s event, said it’s incumbent upon Bhimani and Draeger to make sure voters know about Bucco’s intentions – like in a mailer.
On this issue, the governor was a bit more reserved. He didn’t mention the machinations regarding Bucco in his upbeat address. Asked about it afterwards, Murphy acknowledged he hasn’t been talking about that issue.
He explained that he had signed a bill allowing Cory Booker to run for reelection to the Senate and if it happens, president or vice president, simultaneously. This is not precisely the same thing Bucco is doing, but it’s similar. Ironically, some Republicans also are using the Booker example to defend what Bucco is doing.
Leaving that issue aside for a minute, the Democrats’ event included a very bipartisan trait of all political gatherings – a heap of mutual admiration.
Murphy lavishly praised Currie and introduced him as the party’s once and future chairman. That’s relevant because Currie may face a challenge next year to his chairmanship. The governor also was full of praise for Chip Robinson, the Morris Democratic chair, remembering that he was the first county chair to endorse his gubernatorial bid.
Speaking to a very receptive audience, the governor defended his agenda, including parts of it that have not been realized.
He said he is still committed to a millionaires’s tax and that he’s ready to go down with the ship if need be. One assumes this means Murphy will continue bringing it up even if there is no support for it in the Legislature. And continuing with rhetorical flourishes, the governor said, as he has before, that he’s going to “fix NJ Transit” if it kills him and that it just might.
Talk of NJ Transit allowed Murphy to take a few swipes at his predecessor, Chris Christie, for allegedly ignoring the agency during his eight years as governor. And knowing Christie resides in Mendham Township, which is in the 25th District, the governor said he wants political payback on Nov. 5.
“I want to kick some ass in Mendham Township,” he said.