At St. Peter’s, Murphy Grabs Hold of Obvious National Cinderella Symbols

Maintaining the time-honored Pappy O’Daniel political tradition of jumping onstage when the Soggy Bottom Boys are playing (or speaking into a microphone when they’ve stopped playing), Governor Phil Murphy today took a timely turn at palming the old basketball in the aftermath of St. Peter’s University’s unprecedented March Madness run.

This morning, the jubilant (but masked, he tested positive for COVID-19 last week) Murphy delivered the Keynote Address at St. Peter’s University’s 150th Anniversary Founders’ Week Celebration. 

“It’s a Cinderella Story,” the Governor gushed, “and it’s even more special when Cinderella lives right here in Jersey City.

The school’s basketball squad finally ran into the University of North Carolina on Sunday, but not before The Peacocks did what no 15th seed team has done before — make it to the Final Four of the men’s NCAA Tournament.

Amid Democratic Party consternation over polling that shows President Joe Biden struggling to connect with American voters, Murphy allies continue to gently assert the New Jersey governor as a national option if the party finds itself flummoxed come 2024.

Their reasoning, at least today, contained the following rapids navigation:

He wears a mask (uncool, but responsible).

He’s a basketball fan. (cool).

The team he roots for is in New Jersey (uncool).

But maybe people should rethink the “New Jersey is uncool” charge after St. Peter’s miraculous run (cool).

Onstage at the university, Murphy schmoozed with insider Ginger Gold.  “We go way back – before March Madness,” the governor said.

He addressed the obvious from behind a black COVID mask. “First day out of quarantine,” he explained. “Allow me to be the proof that the virus is still among us.”

Then he happily segued. “I took myself off the court and put myself on the bench,” Murphy said to applause, as he got to the heart of it: basketball.

“Its stature has been raised,” he noted of the school, praising the students – but not too much – “it’s a birthday party not a commencement,” before manning the national-sized proximate spotlight just screaming for symbolic attention, and just in case anyone needed it spelled out for him:

The Statue of Liberty faces New York. “but its torch lights the Jersey side,” Murphy declared.

Jersey, of course, has struggled post Frank Hague-Woodrow Wilson in the stratosphere of presidential politics, as numerous Bruce Springsteen-sprinkled speeches have fallen flat nationally, with Whitehouse aspirations turning back into wharf rat reality, or, to borrow from the Cinderella reference, black SUVs with tinted glass remaining just that at the stroke of midnight, but with flat tires and in the swamps.

Murphy hopes things turn out differently for him than they did for Bill Bradley, Chris Christie and Cory Booker, and maybe the St. Peter’s story shows it can happen; it’s volatile, and some big names (Andrew Cuomo comes to mind) have already limped off the court for good, but there remain – to mangle a metaphor – many uncool hurdles to get over, starting with New Jersey dogged as a New York stepchild, not a national player, at least going back to 1912.

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