Two Happy Warriors: Hubert Humphrey, 1968; Kim  Guadagno, 2017 


In the words of Lorenzo Pietro Berra, a/k/a Yogi Berra, for me, the 2017 New Jersey governor’s race is “deja vu, all over again.” 

This campaign has an uncanny resemblance to the presidential campaign of 1968, in which Republican Richard Nixon won the White House, defeating Democrat Vice-President Hubert Humphrey and American Independent Party candidate George C. Wallace, governor of Alabama.  Hubert Humphrey carried the albatross of being the Vice President of an extremely unpopular president, Lyndon B. Johnson.  In 2017, Republican candidate Kim Guadagno is burdened by the albatross of a most unpopular governor, Chris Christie.  The similarities, however, do not stop there.  

Hubert Humphrey served a Chief Executive, Lyndon Johnson, who was reelected in a landslide in 1964.  Johnson lost his popularity soon afterwards in the quagmire of the Vietnam War.  

Kim Guadagno served a Chief Executive, Chris Christie, who was reelected in a landslide in 2013.  Christie lost his popularity soon afterwards in the quagmire of Bridgegate.  

Hubert Humphrey was isolated and placed out of the loop by Lyndon Johnson early in 1965, due to his private opposition to the Vietnam War. Kim Guadagno was isolated and placed out of the loop early by Chris Christie, due to her private opposition to Christie administration policies.  

Hubert Humphrey’s 1968 general election presidential campaign faced fundraising problems due to the perception that he could not win.  Similarly, Kim Guadagno in 2017 has faced similar fundraising difficulties, due to the perception that she cannot win.  

Hubert Humphrey ran against Richard Nixon, who was evasive during the campaign as to what he would do about the Vietnam War.  Kim Guadagno is running against Phil Murphy, who has been Nixonian in his evasiveness on interest arbitration caps, property taxes, and funding his giveaway promises. 

In a nationally televised speech on September 30, 1968, Hubert Humphrey created public distance between him and LBJ when he said that he would stop the bombing of North Vietnam if elected.  Similarly, Kim Guadagno created public distance between her and Chris Christie when she pledged at the second debate not to appoint him to any U. S. Senate vacancy created by a departure of Bob Menendez. 

After his Salt Lake City speech, Humphrey began to narrow the gap between him and Nixon in the polls.  Similarly, Kim Guadagno has been narrowing the gap between her and Murphy since Labor Day.  

Humphrey was known as “the Happy Warrior,” the same appellation given by Franklin D. Roosevelt to former New York governor and 1928 Democratic presidential candidate Alfred E. Smith. Kim Guadagno is the quintessence of the Happy Warrior, always reflecting optimism and never discouragement.  

Ultimately, Hubert Humphrey lost the 1968 election by a hairsbreadth.  As pollster George Gallup said at that time, Humphrey would have won if the election had taken place a few days later.  To paraphrase Vince Lombardi:  You never lose elections.  But sometime the clock runs out on year.  

Similarly, Kim Guadagno continues to face difficult obstacles in overcoming Phil Murphy’s lead, although the commitment of the Republican Governors Association to make a substantial ad buy in support of her is a most hopeful sign.   

One thing is certain, however.  The Happy Warrior, Kim Guadagno has generated a most surprising showing of New Jersey GOP grassroots enthusiasm and unity.  And in a time of supreme New Jersey Republican embarrassment due to the ethical failings of Chris Christie and the shameful public behavior of Donald Trump, Kim Guadagno has given New Jersey Republicans a reason to be proud. 

Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman. 

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