The Numbers Confirm: Ciattarelli Faces a Landslide Defeat


On the day after Election 2017, I had a number of phone conversations regarding prospects going forward.  The consensus was that the man to watch was Jack Ciattarelli, and that the newly elected governor, Phil Murphy, was likely to have a limited political life.

The Republican candidate for governor, the then Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno had run a competent and respectable campaign, but the twin albatrosses of Chris Christie  and Donald Trump had doomed her to defeat.  By contrast, her primary opponent, Jack Ciattarelli was a magnetic personality who had run a courageous and exciting issue innovative primary in which he explicitly repudiated Donald Trump.

The consensus was that Phil Murphy would be a one term Jon Corzine, an out-of-touch politically unskilled Wall Street refugee who would be destroyed by the political power players in the Democratic Party establishment. All he had going for him was money.

Fast forward to the last few days.  Check out the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, whose reputation has been vastly enhanced under the directorship of Ashley Koning.  First, review the poll’s current overall approval ratings on Phil Murphy, released Monday.

Then, review the poll’s initial results of the Murphy- Ciattarelli matchup.

The conclusion of any objective review is inescapable.  Barring a totally unforeseen personal or ethical scandal or a gross mishandling of a major crisis, Phil Murphy, who currently leads Jack Ciattarelli by an astounding 26-point margin, 52 to 26 points, is headed for a landslide victory.

This likelihood is enhanced by the strengths of Murphy and the weaknesses of Ciattarelli revealed in the polls.

Murphy has a remarkably high job approval percentage for a fourth year governor of 55 percent.  The likability factor works strongly in Murphy’s behalf; his personal approval percentage is eleven points higher than his disapproval, 47 to 36.

By contrast, despite campaigning up and down the state for four years, Ciattarelli is the candidate nobody knows.  An astonishingly high 52 percent do not know who he is, and another 26 percent have no opinion of him.

Ciattarelli has devoted substantial time to shoring up the Republican base, but the polls show that he has fallen far short of his goal in this regard.  While in a matchup between the two candidates Murphy wins 83 percent of the Democratic base, Ciattarelli only wins 67 percent of the Republicans.

Yet the worst news by far for Ciattarelli in the polls is to be found in the view of the electorate as to whether the state is on the right track or wrong track.  If the right track number is substantially higher than the wrong track number, victory for the incumbent is a virtual certainty.

The current right track-wrong track number is a remarkably high 52 percent right track, 41 percent wrong track. a major positive increase from the 44 percent right track, 56 wrong track number of 2019.   This is a huge favorable trend working for an irreversible advantage for Murphy, resulting in an impossibility of a Ciattarelli victory.

The late venerable sage of Montclair, New Jersey, Lorenzo Pietro Berra a/k/a Yogi Berra used to say, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”  But barring an Act of God, this election is over, folks.

Jack Ciattarelli can’t help but sense the overwhelming Murphy advantage.  He is desperate to generate a factor to cause a negative feeling towards Phil Murphy among rank-and-file voters.  Accordingly, he is now engaged in his “Phil Murphy isn’t New Jersey” rhetoric.

This is an ad hominem puerile effort in which Ciattarelli even questions the way Murphy eats pizza.  It is reminiscent of the 1981 Republican gubernatorial primary in which the late businessman-candidate Joseph “Bo” Sullivan questioned whether Tom Kean would be comfortable having a beer in Bayonne. Sullivan’s effort failed miserably, as Kean won that primary easily, with Sullivan finishing a distant third.

Yet even worse for Ciattarelli is the way he has delivered his “Phil Murphy isn’t New Jersey” message.  New Jersey voters could see this on television as he gave his victory speech the other night.  He exuded vitriol and anger at a time when New Jersey voters are in a mood of hope.  Such a bitter tone is also unbecoming to Jack Ciattarelli, who is basically a profoundly decent man.

What finally dooms the Ciattarelli campaign is the Trump conundrum in which he finds himself.

I have written numerous columns on how Jack’s refusal to distance himself from Trump would become a major obstacle to his running even a competitive campaign against Murphy.   Yet in spite of all his efforts to ingratiate himself with the Trumpist grass roots, the primary results revealed that his efforts have failed to generate any enthusiasm on their part.

Ciattarelli was running against two MAGA clown show candidates in the primary.  It should have been a cakewalk for him.   Instead, his total of roughly 50 percent just barely exceeded the combined 47.6 percent total of the two MAGA candidates.

Yet the death knell of the Ciattarelli campaign appears to be the issue of the January 6 insurrection and Ciattarelli’s refusal to define the violence of that day as an attempt inspired by Trump to set aside by force the election.  The insurrection has been the predominant issue in American politics over the past six months.  By inaccurately defining the issue as a Washington conflagration for which both parties bear equal responsibility, Jack Ciattarelli is on the wrong side of both politics and American history as well.

One must always take pains to be fair to Jack Ciattarelli.  He is a good man of character and competence. He came into a gubernatorial campaign facing three obstacles that would potentially be politically lethal to any Republican gubernatorial nominee, namely a popular incumbent Democratic governor, a million voter Democratic registration advantage, and the albatross of Donald Trump.

Yet also in the interest of fairness, it must be said that Jack Ciattarelli has made the worst of these problems.  Politically, Jack Ciattarelli is Dead Man Walking.

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.

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4 responses to “The Numbers Confirm: Ciattarelli Faces a Landslide Defeat”

    Jack Ciattarelli, personable, actually endearing.
    He is a man who knows how to select a wife.
    Bravo for Melinda!

    No name recognition
    Most people seem to think Ciattarelli is a
    gourmet Italian dish.
    Internet commenters think Ciattarelli is a mosquito repellent.

    Enough of the stain of Trump has splashed on Ciattarelli as to not make hm
    a viable candidate.

    Jack Ciattarelli can not compete successfully with a caring Governor who
    has led us thoughtfully and methodically through a devastating pandemic.

    In summary, as I have more or less said before, Jack Ciattarelli has as much
    chance of winning the 2021 Gubernatorial Election as this 90 year old female
    has of being struck by lightning while on a date with Alan Steinberg.
    ( note to self…… no dating during thunder storms.)

  2. Take Steinberg’s dead man walking prediction with a grain of salt and a slice of pizza (sent courtesy of Senator MikeTesta). Last year Steinberg predicted that Biden would win in a landslide and the Dems would roll in the House and Senate. He also predicted that Amy Kennedy would defeat Jeff Van Drew. As it turns out Biden won but not in a landslide and the Dems eked out a victory in the House and managed a tie in the Senate thanks to Trump’s post election failures. And Van Drew defeated Kennedy. Early on in Murphy’s administration Steinberg wrote columns slamming George Norcross. Now, like Murphy, Steinberg has gone silent. Ciatterelli has a path to victory and it involves exposing the hypocrisy of folks like Murphy and Steinberg who a couple of years ago slammed the Dem political bosses, like Norcross, but now sing a different tune (or say nothing). However, in order to win Ciatterelli can’t stay in the middle lane — he has to speak out against the corrupt political bosses. My prediction is he won’t. He won’t strike a deal, like Christie did to jump in bed with the bosses, but he won’t come out against the bosses either (instead he will leave Norcross and DiVincenzo Jr. alone). And that will be a mistake, as it will prevent him from getting enough anti-corruption Ds from staying home or crossing over for him. And so the the Dems’ 40+ year curse may indeed be broken. Murphy doesn’t deserve re-election due to his turning his back regarding corruption but if Ciatterelli can’t take a stand against the bosses he doesn’t deserve election. And so once again the working class folks in Jersey, as well as those looking to curb corruption, have no good choice.

    • Your comment was interesting.
      If Alan Steinberg ever wonders if anyone ever pays any attention
      to what he writes, he can stop wondering. There is a person who does,
      and she/he seems to have a good memory.
      This will surely make Alan Steinberg very happy!

      As for me, I happily and definitely know no one pays a tad of attention
      to any comments I might make.

  3. Your analysis is so flawed. Your basing your entire analysis on a poll taken immediately after the primary election. Ciattarelli will vastly outperform the 26% he received in that poll and almost every Republican in NJ will vote for him. Murphy will not win the election by as wide of a margin as that poll would suggest if he even wins at all because it is not accurate. Post primary polling always dramatically favors the incumbent. Once the Republican Party unifies behind Jack and the election nears the race will tighten a lot. Anyone with any knowledge about polling and poll analysis would not come to the conclusion that a poll showing Ciattarelli getting 26% of the vote immediately after a primary is at all accurate and can be used to conclude that Murphy is heading for a landslide win. I am not even disputing that’s it’s possible Murphy wins in a landslide but the basis of your argument (the poll) is not the evidence that Murphy is going to win in a landslide.

    Here’s a dose of reality:
    Murphy’s approval has dipped a lot over the course of the past year
    No democrat has won re-election in NJ since Berne in 1997
    The incumbent president’s party has not won the governorship in NJ since 1993 that being Whitman.
    If your entire analysis of the election is being based on a poll in June taken immediately after the primary you are incredibly clueless about polling and poll analysis.

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