The withdrawal by Orsted from its New Jersey wind farm projects has been an unmistakable body blow to the political and governmental stature of Governor Phil Murphy. He had regarded these projects as his economic, environmental, and energy legacy, and now it lies in ruins. His popularity is certain to plummet.
What is uncertain is the effect of the Orsted debacle on next Tuesday’s legislative elections. I do not bet on elections, and I would be totally incompetent to serve as a Las Vegas oddsmaker. I do know politics, however, and my belief is that l’affaire Orsted has most significantly narrowed the odds against a GOP takeover of the Assembly. If the GOP wins Assembly control, Murphy will become, for the most part, an instantaneous lame duck.
Most immediately, the Orsted withdrawal may represent the beginning of the end for the US Senate aspirations of his wife, New Jersey’s First Lady, Tammy Murphy. To understand this, it is essential to understand the origins and germination of the Tammy Murphy candidacy.
Tammy Murphy scored a very high favorability score in a January, 2023 FDU poll. Her staff became carried away by the “Hillary Clinton syndrome.”
The Hillary Clinton syndrome had its origins in the ascension to the role of First Lady by Hillary Clinton after the presidential inauguration of her husband, Bill Clinton in 1993. She immediately emerged as a national spokesperson on issues for the center-left and a prospective candidate for various high offices, including her successful campaign for US Senator from New York in 2000.
Accordingly, staffs of popular First Ladies, state and federal, since then fantasize about their boss becoming a candidate for the highest of offices. The Tammy Murphy staff fell under the syndrome big time and began floating the notion of Tammy Murphy running for higher office.
Now Tammy Murphy has earned her high level of public approval. She has proficient communication skills and a genuine concern for the environment. She is an excellent surrogate for the governor at various public functions. She has been a real credit to New Jersey as First Lady.
But Tammy Murphy is no Hillary Clinton. Not even close.
I worked closely with the then Senator Hillary Clinton as Region 2 EPA Regional Administrator during the second term of President George W. Bush. Hillary is a person of nonpareil political and governmental skills and brilliant policy insight who would have doubtless become a major figure in American political life even if she were not married to Bill Clinton.
The same is not true of Tammy Murphy. In a contest among Democratic prospective New Jersey US Senate candidates based solely upon governmental and political merit, she would not have come close to the top tier. Democratic Members of the House of Representatives like Mikie Sherrill, Josh Gottheimer, Don Norcross, and Frank Pallone would rank far above her. Even Andy Kim, whose politics I have excoriated because of his foreign policy leanings is of far higher political and governmental caliber.
The stature of Tammy Murphy in terms of US Senate candidacy is based solely upon the power of celebrity, being the wife of a wealthy governor. If Phil Murphy’s popularity suffers a sharp decline, as appears inevitable in the post-Orsted world, the value of such celebrity declines markedly. In a nutshell, Tammy Murphy’s admirable service as New Jersey’s First Lady no more qualifies her for the US Senate than does the outstanding achievement of Doug Emhoff as Second Gentleman qualify him as a presidential candidate.
In speaking with Democratic Party notables, I detect a surprising lack of enthusiasm for a Tammy Murphy US Senate candidacy. What strikes me is the presence of a strong fear factor – the concern of antagonizing Phil Murphy when it comes to his ability to deny distribution of state government largesse regarding their localities. If Phil Murphy becomes a lame duck next week, this fear factor will subside significantly.
If Tammy Murphy does secure the Democratic Senate nomination, there is another further obstacle to her Senate candidacy in the post-Orsted world: The meteoric rise of Republican Congressman Jeff Van Drew.
Now Van Drew is MAGA world personified. He is anathema to me personally and politically, and I would emphatically oppose his US Senate candidacy. There is no question, however, that due to his anti-Orsted crusade, he emerges as a huge winner with a real prospect of becoming the first Republican elected to the US Senate since Clifford Case in 1972. He is a most skilled debater with the capacity of eviscerating Tammy Murphy in debate.
Political correctness is a major malady in the New Jersey media world. Since talk began in earnest of her US Senate candidacy, print and broadcast media have fallen over themselves in heralding the anointment of US Senator Tammy Murphy.
Perhaps Tammy Murphy will survive the present political quagmire and achieve election to the US Senate. The more realistic prospect is that she will fall far short of this objective. In the event of her political demise, all those columns proclaiming “US Senator Tammy Murphy” will find a place in media museums next to the front page of the November 3, 1948 edition of the Chicago Tribune proclaiming “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
Alan J. Steinberg of Highland Park 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.