ROCHELLE PARK – Barry Wilkes scanned the crowded restaurant and proclaimed:
“You know, we have a chance this year.”
Then he went a bit further, saying it was the Republicans’ best chance in LD-38 in about 20 years.
Then, he went even further:
“This year, the Democrats are handing it to us on a silver platter.” He was talking about parents’ rights.
Make no mistake. Republicans have a skip in their step these days with the legislative election now less than two months away.
What this will ultimately mean is unknown, but as of now such Republican leaders as Anthony M. Bucco (Senate) and John DiMaio (Assembly) are traveling the state to help local candidates. If the GOP can pull off a massive win in November, Bucco will be Senate President and DiMaio Assembly Speaker. That’s the kind of dream that encourages you to put miles on your car.
On Thursday evening, Bucco and DiMaio decamped at an Italian restaurant here on behalf of the Republicans’ LD-38 candidates.
They are Micheline Attieh for Senate and Gail Horton and the aforementioned Wilkes for Assembly.
“We are invested in this district,” Bucco said, referring to the GOP leadership. He knew he was speaking to the “choir,” but what Bucco wants is for the “choir to sing,” meaning spread the Republicans’ message to friends and family.
The 38th legislative district covers central Bergen County with Paramus and Fair Lawn two of its prominent towns. Dems hold a 25,000 lead on the voter registration rolls, but that can be misleading or even irrelevant.
Two years ago, the Democrats’ victory margin was about 3,000.
The incumbents are Sen. Joseph Lagana and Assembly members Lisa Swain and Chris Tully.
The GOP candidates made no direct mention of the Democrats at Thursday’s event, which was billed as a campaign kickoff.
Instead, they talked about what Republicans consider the issue of the day – parents’ rights.
Horton told me in a brief chat that she’s looked at high school textbooks and found some to include pornography. More broadly, she spoke of the Democrats’ “radical agenda” when it comes to education.
This is a major Republican campaign theme, so much so that GOP candidates think it can be used to get votes from mainstream Democrats.
As DiMaio said, Democrats are trying to prevent parents from protecting their children.
From any objective perspective, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you can catch the drift.
There are four pending court cases in which the state has sued local districts over policies that the state Attorney General sees as discriminatory against gay and transgender students. All the policies have been so far blocked by the courts. Supporters say the policies are meant to inform parents about what their children are doing.
Another issue boils down to, “Hey, give us a chance.”
Democrats have controlled both houses for about two decades, so don’t Republicans deserve a chance? That’s the argument.
DiMaio was blunter, saying that Democrats in Trenton have become “drunk with power.” But he says he thinks voters have woken up.
One issue that didn’t come up was the issue that dominates just about every Democratic gathering these days – abortion rights.
Talk about polarization. It’s not just a case of the parties having different views on issues. They don’t even agree on what the key issues are.
With two months to go, it’s parental rights for Republicans and abortion rights for the Democrats.