D.C. – You talk to people from up north about Democratic front-runner Phil Murphy and there’s acceptance – even enthusiasm. But Democratic insiders with southern roots remain skeptical. They wanted Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) for governor and understand that Murphy’s political muscle derived from northern chairs emboldened by the notion of weakening Sweeney’s powerful political ally: George Norcross III.
No one in the south wants watered down power, particularly after years of Trenton bullying. So a kind of drinking game developed among South Jersey types with Democratic Party ties. Whenever someone mentioned the word “Ciattarelli,” they summoned another round. It was a nod to long-shot Republican gubernatorial candidate Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-16), the populist, Raritan born businessman who has engendered goodwill in the legislature on both sides of the aisle.
“I love Jack,” a red-eyed face at the bar confessed. The laminated name tag hanging off his neck revealed a name well known in Democratic Party circles.
“Jack’s the kind of guy you can have a beer with – and talk policy specifics with while at the bar,” another offered.
Then there was that InsiderNJ conversation this morning with someone still digesting Governor Chris Christie’s speech. The Democrat honed in on the governor’s Thursday night chamber keynote jab at an unnamed 2017 gubernatorial candidate eager to say yes to every liberal special interest group.
“He was talking about Murphy,” the insider told InsiderNJ. “And he’s absolutely right. Look, the political strategy over the years with Christie has been to throw every piece of liberal s-t we can think of into a bill and send it down to Chris so he can veto it.” The horror, the source said, is that Murphy would be waiting at that same desk with a ready pen, unable to say no.
Might a Sweeney-led caucus up the ante on Murphy by deviously churning out a blizzard of lefty bills just to sink him because the south knows he can’t resist? “I hadn’t thought of that,” the source cackled.
It is a Small World, After All
While insiders bitch and moan at Super Bowl parties with real people about the myriad transgressions of those members of the other party, be it Republican or Democrat, they adore the transactional free-for-all of an event like the chamber train, where mutual self-interest and alcohol blend together to create a perceived deepened love of America regardless of political affiliation.
“I think this proves we can all get along,” a hungover insider told InsiderNJ.
U.S. Senator Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) “sea to shining sea” speech reinforced the idea.
Kim and Wiz
Beating cancer as he runs for governor, Ciattarelli wasn’t on this chamber trip. His recovery is progressing well, his campaign strategist Chris Russell told InsiderNJ. But bar buzz favored the Republican, as did the mail piece distributed on the train savaging Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno.
Murphy, of course, was dominant on the trip. In person, he’s friendly, dynamic and down to earth and appears to enjoy himself in the company of head-on-the-bar insiders and other assorted train types.
Of those Trenton candidates jockeying for position, Guadagno and Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19) appeared to create little impact on this trip, perhaps enabling the Republican and Democrat respectively to make the case that they prefer the company of real New Jerseyans to the cavities of drunken insider power.
Bill Stepien, the bulldog Republican operative and former Christie campaign manager turned national level minder for President Donald J. Trump, showed up at 1868’s Pennsylvania Avenue Party, that intimate, lights-down-low soiree hosted by Leroy Jones and Idida Rodriguez.
The Big Thursday Night Tour
Monmouth County Republican Chairman Shaun Golden and a posse of Republicans got treated to a grade-A walk-through of the White House prior to the official sit-down supper at the Marriott Wardman Hotel. One of the members of that entourage told InsiderNJ that Trump himself was visible during one craned neck look up a carpeted hallway.