New Jersey Political Landscape 2017: Blue, Center-Left, But Not Ultra-Liberal 

 

The following is the evidence for the three conclusions in the title of this column: 

  1. New Jersey is a Democratic Blue state.

In reaching this conclusion, I am speaking of voting patterns rather than party affiliations. 

Up until the first decade of this century, I would have classified New Jersey as a swing purple state, rather than Democratic blue.  The Republicans had won six consecutive presidential elections, commencing with 1968 through 1988. They controlled the governor’s office for 20 of the 32 years in the time period commencing January 1, 1970 and terminating December 31, 2002.  They also controlled both houses of the state legislature from January, 1992 until January, 2002. 

All this changed in 2003.  Since then, the Republicans have failed to win a majority of seats in either house of the legislature, even during the Republican Christie administration.  The Democrats continue to win every Presidential race since 1992 and every U.S. Senate race since 1978.  

As shown by the victories of Chris Christie for governor in 2009 and 2013, however, it remains well possible for Republican candidates to win a gubernatorial race.  Unaffiliated voters continue to be the largest voting bloc in New Jersey, constituting 42.3 percent of all registered voters, while the Democrats and Republicans comprise 36 and 21.3 percent respectively, the rest being minor party registrants.  A Republican candidate can prevail in a gubernatorial race by winning the overwhelming majority of GOP registrants, plus a substantial majority of unaffiliated voters.  

The prime factor behind the Democratic blue character of today’s New Jersey voting patterns is demographic, rather than ideological.  The Democrats have gained an ethnic advantage, due to the rising prominence of the African-American and Hispanic vote, and a gender advantage, due to the increasing number of college educated and working women.  

2.  The New Jersey electorate tends to vote center-left, and the unaffiliated voters hold the ideological balance. 

Unaffiliated voters perceive the Democrats as being preferable on public provisioning issues, such as education, public health, and safety net programs.  They give Republicans the edge on the issues of state taxes (income and sales) and public safety, while viewing both parties as failures on local property taxes. 

When unaffiliated voters perceive state tax and public safety issues as more important than public provisioning issues, they will vote in a center-right direction, both in gubernatorial and legislative elections. 

3.  New Jersey is not California – it has never been an ultra-liberal state.   

Even core Democrats will reject ultra-liberal candidates.  Case in point: The 2016 New Jersey Democratic Presidential Primary, in which Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders by nearly 27 percent.    

Applying the above three theses to the 2017 New Jersey gubernatorial race:  

The effectiveness of the Guadagno general election campaign has been highly underrated.  Kim Guadagno has had remarkable success in unifying the NJGOP and rallying the GOP base.  She will almost certainly receive a larger percentage of the Republican vote than did losing Republican gubernatorial candidates Bret Schundler in 2001 and Doug Forrester in 2005. 

In order to defeat Phil Murphy, Kim must capture a substantial majority of unaffiliated voters.  Her inability to do so thus far, at least according to the polls, has been due to two factors:  Chris Christie and Donald Trump.  

The one-time popular Christie remains an albatross for Guadagno, due to her status as lieutenant governor in his administration.  Christie has sunk to unprecedented depths in public disapproval, due to 1) Bridgegate, which embedded the electorate’s perception of him as an unethical, bullying political thug; and 2) Beachchairgate, which made Christie an object of public ridicule.  His sycophancy towards Trump after he withdrew from the 2016 Republican presidential primaries eliminated among a majority of voters whatever respect remained for him. 

The fact that Kim Guadagno has a large gender gap among unaffiliated voters is due to the perception among women that Donald Trump, the nation’s leading Republican, is a misogynist.  That perception is potentially lethal for Republican candidates in blue states in the 2018 Congressional races.    

The best hope that Kim Guadagno has in surging among unaffiliated voters is for them to ideologically shift in the closing campaign days to center-right from center-left.  That could be happening, due to a heightened concern on the public safety issue regarding terrorists who are able to enter the nation due to serious defects in our immigration laws.  The catastrophic ISIS-inspired murders in West Side Manhattan has increased focus in this regard. 

Phil Murphy has a serious vulnerability on this issue, due to his embrace of the Ultra-Left radical concept of Sanctuary State and its implicit minimization of the role of law enforcement in preventing the entry of small criminal elements among the vast majority of law-abiding, peaceful immigrants.  There is little doubt that this issue is decreasing Murphy’s lead and at least will ensure that this is not a Democratic wave election. 

While most pundits believe that Murphy will survive and win, the question then becomes how he would perceive his mandate.  He has run as a George Soros/Bernie Sanders style ultra-liberal Democrat.  If Phil Murphy perceives a victory for him as a mandate for ultra-liberal, progressive Democrat style government, he will ensure that he will be a one-term governor who leaves office in January, 2022. 

Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman. 

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