In this midterm election, America’s 44th president, Barack Obama, is the most powerful and effective asset of the Democratic Party. While President Donald Trump’s approval ratings continue to sink to unprecedented low levels, Obama remains America’s most popular former president.
Last week, Obama kicked off his involvement in the midterm elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate. He unveiled a most compelling two-fold message against the Trump administration and the failure of Republicans in the House and Senate to contain the evils of this president.
The first component of the Obama message is his incontrovertible assertion that our present economic recovery began in the Obama administration and had its roots in Obama policies. Facts are facts, and most Americans will concur with this Obama economic message.
The second component is Obama’s depiction of the bigoted and xenophobic social message of the Trump administration and the destructive effect it is having on the social fabric of this nation. As Obama put it, alluding to the shameful silence of Trump after Charlottesville, “How hard can that be? Saying Nazis are bad.”
But where and for whom will Obama campaign? The Democrats are now virtually certain to capture control of the House of Representatives, and they now have a well-defined path to capture Senate control as well. Accordingly, we may expect Obama to direct his efforts to close, but winnable races in each house.
How does that affect the likelihood of Obama campaigning in New Jersey? He certainly will not campaign for incumbent Democratic US Senator Bob Menendez. There is genuine antipathy between the former president and Menendez, stemming from the recent prosecution of the incumbent Senator, which originated with the Obama administration Justice Department. Menendez supporters have alleged that this prosecution was retribution for his opposition to Obama’s deal with Iran regarding nuclear weaponry. Regardless of the truth or falsity of this allegation, there is no doubt that you will not see Obama campaigning in New Jersey on behalf of Bob Menendez.
There are two Democratic Congressional challengers who both served in the Obama administration and may attract an Obama campaign visit: 1) Andy Kim in Congressional District 3, who is attempting to unseat Republican incumbent Tom MacArthur; and 2) Tom Malinowski in Congressional District 7, who is mounting a challenge to Republican incumbent Leonard Lance, an effort supported by such Democratic luminaries as Madeleine Albright and John Kerry. The dynamics of the two races are very different, and I will confine this column to the Malinowski-Lance contest.
An Obama campaign visit on behalf of Tom Malinowski will focus on more than just fundraising. The former president will direct his message to independents, moderate Republicans, and “soft” Democratic voters in the Seventh Congressional District.
Fortunately for Leonard Lance, he has available to him a person with even more voter appeal than that of Barack Obama and all the Democratic luminaries combined. I speak of former Governor Tom Kean, who is recognized by historians of both parties as the greatest New Jersey governor of the twentieth century and who, as shown by polls, continues to be the most popular political figure in New Jersey even after having left office over 28 years ago. The Kean positive name recognition extends to thousands of New Jersey voters who were not even alive when Tom Kean was elected in 1981.
In the Kean administration, Leonard Lance served as assistant counsel to the governor. Kean has a very high regard for Lance and has already participated in various campaign efforts. It would be foolhardy for Lance not to request that Kean make a television commercial on his behalf. Tom Kean is now 83 years old, yet he continues to have the appeal of a young political rock star.
The career of Tom Kean did not terminate with the end of his governorship in 1990. After leaving the Trenton State House, Tom Kean served in most distinguished fashion as president of Drew University and later in the presidential administration of George W. Bush as Chair of the 9-11 Commission.
A campaign television commercial from Tom Kean on behalf of Leonard Lance would have extraordinary effectiveness and power, particularly in the event that Obama comes to New Jersey to aid Malinowski. Leonard Lance should not forego this obvious opportunity.
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.