PARSIPPANY – Republican council candidate Justin Musella sized up the fall election this way.
“The Democrats don’t have Trump to hide behind.”
Musella’s observation, which he made at a Thursday night fundraiser, is something to heed.
Much of the Dems’ recent enthusiasm and electoral success since 2017 was a backlash to Donald Trump in the White House. That enabled Democrats to flip four House seats in 2018. They held three of those seats in 2020; the fourth returned to the Republican fold when Jeff Van Drew switched parties.
Democrats also won the mayor’s seat in Parsippany in 2017. Republicans are counting on former mayor Jamie Barberio, who lost four years ago, to reclaim it in a rematch of the 2017 race between him and Democratic incumbent Michael Soriano.
Musella, who is running with Barberio and fellow council candidate Frank Neglia, contends that with Trump out of office, Democrats lose a main campaign point – running against Trump.
There’s some merit in that argument, but on the other hand, Trump is still very much around, dishing out statements, complaining about a “rigged election,” and acting like he’s going to run for president again in 2024.
So, he still may be an issue.
The significance of the Parsippany race was symbolized by an impressive turnout of local dignitaries at Musella’s fundraiser at Tommy’s Tavern.
Two of the GOP senators representing Morris – Joe Pennacchio and Anthony M. Bucco – were there. As was former mayor Frank Priore, past and perhaps future CD-11 candidate Rosemary Becchi and the guest of honor, new state Republican chair Bob Hugin.
“I’m very excited about our prospects,” he said. The reference was to the gubernatorial race.
Hugin admitted that he wasn’t originally a “Jack groupie.”
But now that Jack Ciattarelli is the GOP hope against Phil Murphy, Hugin’s all in.
Hugin said Ciattarelli is the quintessential Jersey guy and a great campaigner.
“When he meets (people), the difference between him and Phil Murphy is embarrassingly different, so different it’s amazing,” Hugin said, urging local Republicans to help Ciattarelli meet voters.
Ciattarelli does come across as a good campaigner, but counting on personal interaction in 2021 is going to be a challenge.
Hugin acknowledged New Jersey’s tough terrain — registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than a million. But he said the GOP has hope because Democrats are going “so far off the deep end.”
He mentioned rising crime in the suburbs and pandemic restrictions that kept some students out of classrooms for most of the school year.
In contrast, Hugin said Republicans “have the values of New Jersey,” which include liberty, freedom and support for small businesses.
As is the norm at fundraisers, confidence was high.
“It is our election to lose,” Musella said, suggesting Republicans are the favorites in Parsippany.