There was a veritable political earthquake last night with its epicenter in upstate New York’s national bellwether 19th Congressional district. And its shock waves are felt today in New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District, where the battle of the Toms, Malinowski and Kean, Jr. continues to be the sole major undecided political contest in the Garden State.
The national decline in the fortunes of the Republican Party, as noted in my column of yesterday, is accelerating at an ever increasing pace, but last night’s special election upset victory of Democrat Pat Ryan over Republican Marc Molinaro in the New York 19th District Congressional race confirmed the depth of the Republican descent.
Most significantly for New Jersey, Ryan’s winning campaign was all about the need to protect reproductive choice in the aftermath of the US Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade. Molinaro’s losing campaign was all about inflation.
Accordingly, there was one conclusive and irrefutable truth that was the key to the Ryan victory:
Abortion choice supersedes inflation as a voting issue.
There is a simple reason for this. The voters in New Jersey and New York understand that inflation is a temporary condition, while the loss of reproductive choice is permanent.
We are witnessing the temporary nature of inflation now. Gas prices, along with food prices, constitute the leading indicator of inflation and deflation. And gas prices have dropped 70 days in a row, the second longest streak since 2005.
For Tom Kean, Jr., the emergence from the Ryan victory of the paramountcy of abortion as a voting issue is a catastrophe. My column of May 3, 2022, “The Roe v. Wade reversal dooms Kean, Jr. to defeat” analyzed in depth the legal and political background of abortion choice in New Jersey. The New Jersey Senate vote of Tom Kean, Jr. against the Freedom of Reproductive Choice would leave New Jersey women unprotected from judicial abrogation, partial or complete, of their right to choose.
The women of New Jersey will never accept the explanation of Kean, Jr. that he felt that the protection of the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act went too far. All they know is that his vote against the Act would leave their right of reproductive choice unprotected from state judicial or executive infringement.
The reproductive choice issue alone could vitiate the attempts of Kean, Jr. to win the support of unaffiliated women voters. Without the support of independent women voters, Kean, Jr. will not have a prayer of victory.
The spinmeisters hired as consultants by the New Jersey Republican State Committee over the next few weeks will attempt to buoy the Kean, Jr. campaign with sonorous sophistry as to how the Ryan victory is not a portent of the New Jersey political impact of the Roe v. Wade reversal. If you believe this arid nonsense, I have a bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn that I can sell you.
We now have seen over the last four months a steady stream of columns and speeches nationally from Republican media figures claiming as hornbook law and holy writ that abortion is not a voting issue likely to affect the midterm elections. In retrospect, these nonsensical missives had all the efficacy of 1957 Edsels.
By contrast, Malinowski’s consultants, Brad Lawrence and Steve DeMicco have made reproductive freedom the centerpiece of his campaign since the Dobbs decision reversing Roe v. Wade was prematurely leaked. Lawrence and DeMicco, in my view, are the most effective message and media consultants in New Jersey and among the top elite nationally. Their strategic mastery of both message content and technology and their preternatural campaign foresight is a tribute to their unique political insight.
One other impact: There is a diminishing number of House seats that the Republicans can capture from the Democrats. New Jersey 7th remains a prime GOP target. So New Jersey will be very much in the national political media spotlight over the next two months.
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.