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PARSIPPANY – Republicans may control no part of state government and are fresh from losing all but one House seat last fall, but New Jersey party leader Doug Steinhardt is convinced things are looking up.
That was his upbeat message Sunday to Morris County Republicans at a party brunch at the Knoll Country Club.
Steinhardt looked forward to the “Murphy midterms,” and said the GOP is putting itself in good shape to pick up seats. Only the Assembly is up this year, but any chipping away at the Democrats’ comfortable advantage in the lower house would be a big deal.
Linking the midterms to Gov. Phil Murphy certainly makes sense. Not only is the governor often at odds with legislative Democratic leaders, he has been recently beset by problems and possible missteps, including ongoing turmoil at the Schools Development Authority after reports of widespread patronage at the agency.
Additionally, the governor announced a deal last week to spare New Jersey drivers from any congestion pricing tolls enacted by New York State. But soon thereafter, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said there was no deal.
Talk about confusion.
The question, of course, is whether Murphy’s problems will persuade Republican-leaning voters to go to the polls in what figures to be a very low turnout election.
Steinhardt said 2019 so far has been an exciting time for the state GOP, noting that the party’s donor base is increasing by leaps and bounds.
“We are giving people a party they are willing to invest in,” he said. Steinhardt also said the party is increasing its outreach in all areas – from social media to simply hitting the road and interacting with the public.
The message is not unique. Steinhardt talked about such traditional GOP values as lowering taxes, fiscal responsibility, defending the Constitution and family values.
A cynic might say that Republicans talked about the same issues last fall and lost four of five House seats. Or in other words, are those principles and Murphy’s woes enough to overcome the negative persona of Donald Trump, whose approval rating in New Jersey is less than 40 percent and whose mere presence drives Democratic turnout?
The president was not mentioned Sunday, but state Sen. Thomas H. Kean Jr. bravely proclaimed that with the right message, New Jersey can become a Republican state. Kean is seeking the congressional seat now held by Democrat Thomas Malinowski, but made no mention of it.
The only disconcerting note was a warning of sorts from Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, whose mostly Union County district includes two towns in Morris.
Looking to the upcoming election, where the GOP’s first chore is to defend the seats they have, Munoz said, “If they (Dems) think they can bump us off, they’re never going to stop.”