So… What About This? Guadagno Wins 

Shortly before the 2016 Presidential election, my geeky, techy brother-in-law sent out a friends and family poll. It took a handful of swing states and asked us to predict the winner of each. The poll then automatically combined our answers with the electoral votes from the “safe” states.  The goal was to see who came closest to the actual results. Ten bucks a head. Winner take all.  

I thought I might throw a scare into my mostly Democratic family by filling it out in a way that made Trump win. I gave him Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Michigan, Florida, and Ohio. I was just about to hit send, but then realized $10 is $10. No way would Trump run the table and win. I went with the safer bet and had Hillary squeaking out a win.  I lost my $10 to a cousin who can barely say a sentence without adding “build a wall” to it.   

With every major independent poll having Phil Murphy winning by around 15 points, it seems a pretty safe bet that he will be the next governor. The massive registration advantage Democrats hold in New Jersey says that Murphy will win. The clear organizational advantages of Democrats over Republicans in New Jersey says that Murphy will win. Murphy’s fundraising advantage says that he will win. Kim Guadagno’s connections to Chris Christie and his record low approval ratings say that Murphy will win.  Kim Guadagno’s failure to show up at numerous public forums indicate that Murphy will win. The only person who might take a bet for Guadagno to win is a North Jersey loan shark looking to increase the vig on a client already in deep trouble.  

However, the experience of losing $10 to a nut job cousin sticks with me. What if? Could Guadagno win?  

So…. What about this?  How Guadagno might win. 

All of the polls that show Murphy winning also show the strength of a candidate named “Undecided.”   That answer usually really means, “I am staying home” or “Wait? What election?” But what if these undecided voters break disproportionately for Guadagno?   

Every person who has ever worked on a campaign will tell you they can “feel” when the tide is turning toward or away from their candidate. I once worked on a Governor’s race where the polls said it was getting closer and yet in event after event, I saw our crowds getting just a bit smaller and just a bit less energetic. Now, it can be difficult to believe campaign staff because they will always say they can feel the race breaking their way (at least I did). But, if you listen closely; Guadagno staffers are the only ones actively saying they “feel a surge.” Murphy’s camp is saying; “we will just keeping working hard.” If you talk to political reporters, a group that generally doesn’t believe anything, many seem to think the final results will be a lot closer that the current polls. Who knows? Maybe there really is a surge out there for her?   

This is going to be an extremely low turnout election. That generally means that the more extreme ends of the political spectrum (on both the left and the right) are going to be disproportionately represented in the actual voting booth. This normally means that the advantage goes to the side with the best ground game. Phil Murphy wins this easily. He can rely on the Democratic Party and the unions for Election Day workers while Kim Guadagno has to pay people $10.00 an hour to knock on her doors.   

But what if this presumed turnout advantage doesn’t actually materialize for Murphy? Phil Murphy is quite good at getting party apparatchiks to come to events and fill halls. But there is less evidence that he is bringing regular democrats to those events. Murphy still has a huge advantage here, but for Murphy to win he needs more than just the activist Democratic base. He needs the average Democratic voter to show up and vote. If the regular Democrats stay home, Murphy could end up going home too.  

For these scenarios to work requires that “something” has to move one unexpected group of people to the polls and another expected group of people away from the polls.   

The only “something” that could do this in this election is immigration. When Kim Guadagno released her Jose Carranza ad, it was attacked everywhere as racist. I myself did it in several interviews. But if we take a step back (outside the bubble) it actually isn’t too difficult to imagine a group of people who might agree that the ad is racist and are still argue against New Jersey becoming a sanctuary state. I think there are plenty of people who hear the term “sanctuary” and associate it with “free pass.” Perhaps springing immediately to the racist content of her ad makes it difficult for us to see, that for some people the key issue isn’t skin color, it is somehow fairness and following the law. Perhaps there are more people than we think who are more upset by the “sanctuary state” policy suggested by Phil Murphy than by the advertisement run by Kim Guadagno. Remember the recent headline from the Pew Research Center showing that “racism” has been growing in importance among American voters. It is true that part of this growth is because more Democrats than Republicans are saying it is important. However, it is also fueled by the rising number of white people across the political spectrum who think they are the victims of racism.   

It is also important to point out that as much as we like to believe that New Jersey is an enlightened bastion of tolerance, we have lots of evidence that is not always the case.  In the closing weeks of this campaign season, we have seen campaign mailers in Edison arguing that we should deport two South Asian-American board of education candidates for wanting cricket fields. We have seen another one in Hoboken claiming a candidate who wears a turban must be a terrorist. And don’t forget the horrific racism supposedly spewing from a former Police Chief in Bordentown Township.   

So… what if you add the first group of people (the no free-pass crowd) with the second group (real racists) and they all break hard for Guadagno? Her numbers go up, how much we don’t know but what if they went up 6 points? 

So… what if lots of the regular Democrats decide to stay home and only the activists Democrats show up to vote? That decreases his numbers. Let’s say that is another 6 points.  Is that enough for Kim Guadagno to actually win this election? Well, actually not really, most polls have her down by 15 points. But she is now in the margin of error for most polls.  

So… will this all happen?  I hope not.  I might even bet $10 with my cousin that it won’t happen.  Still….  Please go vote. Please go vote. Please go vote. 

Matt Hale is a Professor of Political Science at Seton Hall University


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