Incumbents have an advantage; everyone knows that.
And when they use it, the other side screams.
Everyone knows that too, but it happens every election cycle no matter the party breakdown.
For the most recent illustration of this phenomena we turn to the gubernatorial race.
With the state surprisingly flush with cash thanks to federal aid, the recently-adopted 2021-22 state budget includes rebates to about 760,000 residents with dependent children who meet income guidelines.
This program strives to target aid to those who need it most and is a great way for the state to spend its money. That, at least, would be Phil Murphy’s take.
How about Jack Ciattarelli?
“Did you get your bribe yet?”
That’s how the Republican began a recent fundraising appeal.
Continuing with the accustomed rhetoric for this sort of thing, Ciattarelli sees something sinister behind the rebates.
“Phil Murphy is trying to buy the election?” Ciattarelli claims, adding that the governor is desperate, because “he knows he is going to lose in November, because his policies have been terrible.”
In truth, candidates “buy” elections all the time, especially self-funders.
But it’s also true that a rebate program is not a “bribe.”
Would Ciattarelli consider last year’s federal stimulus program under then-President Trump a bribe? Probably not.
However, if we look a bit deeper into Ciattarelli’s charge, we find the GOP candidate on a bit more solid ground.
Rather than simply deposit the checks into bank accounts, which is the preferred method these days, the administration is putting checks in the mail. Welcome to the 1950’s.
Or actually, welcome to 1977.
That’s when the rebate program began in the wake of the state income tax being created.
The idea was that the rebates would offset property taxes, which, naturally, were pretty high even 40-plus years ago.
And just as naturally, the rebates were mailed out in October, a few weeks before then-Governor Brendan Byrne ran for re-election.
Ray Bateman, the Republican candidate that year reportedly said he knew he lost the election when he – and many others – got their check.
He was right about that. Bryne won, thereby becoming the last Democratic governor in New Jersey to be re-elected.
No matter what year it is, sending checks to people is a pretty good strategy. Of course, you have mailing costs – as Ciattarelli points out – but it’s doubtful if people getting the checks are going to give that much thought at all.
It is true that the practice of mailing out checks at election time was not done by then-Governor Chris Christie, whose administration in most cases gave recipients credits on their property taxes.
Still, before Republicans get too indignant about this, they ought to think back to the federal stimulus program. Yes, most recipients saw the money just appear in their bank accounts. But some checks were mailed and everyone who got federal relief eventually got a letter telling them about the program – as if they didn’t know – signed by Donald Trump.
This is how incumbents run for re-election and that’s not going to change.
But as we saw last year with Trump, it doesn’t always work.
Who knows, Murphy may regret not waiting until October to send out the checks.