Will Election Night 2023 Catapult Mike Testa?

Testa

On January 2, 2023, I authored an InsiderNJ column designating Senator Michael Testa, Jr. as the 2022 New Jersey Politician of the Year. This designation was given to him both for his legislative achievements since his election to the New Jersey State Senate in 2019 and for his remarkable success as Chair of the Republican Party of Cumberland County since 2014, climaxed by the recapture of control by the GOP of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners in 2022.

I often give sports analogies to political personages and campaigns, and for Mike Testa, there is a sports analogy that is most applicable and appropriate. He is the Shohei Ohtani of New Jersey politics. Just as Shohei, originally a star in his native Japan emerged in baseball’s American League as that very rare combination of most effective pitcher and hitter, Mike Testa has established himself as both New Jersey’s most effective Republican legislator and County GOP chair.  Indeed, there is another analogy that can be made between Mike Testa and another famed Japanese baseball star.  As the Beastie Boys sang, Mike Testa has more hits than Sadaharu Oh!

As I have written before, on social issues, particularly Critical Race Theory, my views are decidedly different from those of Testa.  Yet he is not a bigot, and I confess to liking him very much and having deep respect for his enormous political skills.

And more than any other Republican public official in New Jersey, Mike Testa has a Reaganesque appeal.  He reflects optimism and vision, as contrasted with the negativism and unfocused anger of various MAGA-style candidates in the state, most notably Bill Spadea.

Yet the next test for Mike Testa will be the most significant of his career.  The outcome of the November 2023 New Jersey elections could possibly catapult him into a leading position in the 2025 New Jersey GOP Gubernatorial sweepstakes.

This November, Senator Testa and his two Assembly running mates in the 1st Legislative District will be seeking reelection.  They are definite favorites.  The 1st District consists of portions of Cape May, Cumberland, and Atlantic Counties.

Yet this will not be the only legislative race involving Mike Testa.  He will also be campaigning for the Republican Senate and Assembly candidates in the 4th District, comprised of portions of Camden and Gloucester County.  The 4th is considered by most pundits to be the most likely opportunity in the state for a Republican pick-up in a currently Democratic legislative district.

Finally, as Cumberland GOP Chair, Testa will be heavily focused on his countywide elections this November.  This is the reason he has rebuffed all requests thus far from key Republican players for him to consider a run for the 2025 Republican nomination for New Jersey governor.

In Cumberland, the GOP controls the commissioner board, 4-3, and there are three seats up for election this November which presently are in Democratic hands.  Also up for election in November are the row offices of Surrogate and Sheriff, both of which the Democrats now control.

If Testa is successful in his reelection and 4th Legislative District campaigns and wins at least a significant portion of the County office races, there will be both a GOP grassroots and leadership call for him to enter the 2025 New Jersey GOP gubernatorial sweepstakes.  Largely, it will be based upon both Testa’s assets and his definite superior effectiveness as a candidate to the two current leading GOP 2025 gubernatorial candidates, Bill Spadea and Jack Ciattarelli.

I have authored a column on Bill Spadea’s dystopian message and how poorly it contrasts with Testa’s Reaganesque appeal.  Tests is acceptable to all factions of the NJGOP, including MAGA voters who can support him with enthusiasm, due to his social conservative agenda. And Spadea has absolutely no record of any governmental experience.  The paucity of relevant experience plus his constant attacks on other Jersey Republicans would make Spadea the most ineffective New Jersey GOP statewide candidate over the past 50 years.

The putative GOP New Jersey gubernatorial frontrunner, Jack Ciattarelli does have a distinguished record of public service, five years as a member of the Somerset County commissioner board and six years as a New Jersey Assemblyman. Yet he fares poorly when compared with Testa in terms of his ability to generate enthusiasm.

There is a remarkable parallel between the political career of Jack Ciattarelli and that of the late Vice President Hubert Humphrey that explains the Ciattarelli enthusiasm deficit.  Humphrey ran for the Democratic nomination for president in the 1960 primaries and was defeated by Jack Kennedy.  Ciattarelli ran for the GOP nomination for New Jersey governor in the 2017 primary and was defeated by Kim Guadagno.

Humphrey then won the Democratic nomination for president in 1968, but was defeated by Richard Nixon.  Ciattarelli then won the GOP New Jersey gubernatorial nomination in 2021, but was defeated by Phil Murphy.

In 1972, Humphrey ran again for the Democratic presidential nomination, but he was unable to generate enthusiasm for one major reason, as explicitly explained by the renowned chronicler of the Making of the President series, Theodore H. White.  Humphrey, then 61, had run twice before and was considered “old hat.”  Similarly, Jack Ciattarelli, currently 61, has run twice before and is likely to be considered by 2025 NJGOP primary voters as “old hat.”

There is another factor that could make certain a Testa primary victory.  The stature of Chris Christie among mainstream New Jersey Republicans has grown enormously because of his courageous anti-Trump campaign.  He is now able to be a 2025 GOP gubernatorial primary kingmaker, and he is reportedly closer to Mike Testa than any other prospective candidate.  A Christie endorsement could lock up the nomination for Testa.

Will Testa accept a draft if offered to him?  Only Mike knows.  There is no question that the currently 47-year-old Testa could win the nomination, although, as I have stated before, the Democratic nominee will have a distinct advantage in the general election, due to the legacy of Trump.  Yet at a pre-50 age, Testa could lose a gubernatorial general election in 2025 and come back to win four years later.

On Election Night, 2023, my national focus will be on Glenn Youngkin and the legislative races in Virginia, and my state focus will be on Mike Testa in New Jersey.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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