Call it primary anxiety.
New Jersey’s two main parties have shown symptoms – nail biting, overspending on attack ads – as tomorrow’s contests approach, when voters select the gubernatorial candidates and the 120 seats in the election. ‘Legislative Assembly.
It is not too difficult to diagnose the source of the discomfort.
The primary is shaping up to be the first big contest since the defeat of former President Donald Trump last November and the debacle that unfolded in the weeks that followed – the baseless accusations of massive voter fraud and the big lie that sparked the Jan. 6 insurgency in the United States Capitol.
This chain of events has come to define the Republican Party. It is a party that remains loyal to the defeated Trump, even as he privately fantasizes and plans a return to power. Trump’s followers have little tolerance for anyone who rejects Trumpism.
Undercurrents that run through the four-way contest for the Republican nomination for governor are the fear of the Trump base, his ardor and loyalty.
The restive forces are also shaking the base of the Democratic Party. Grassroots activists, inflamed by the depredations of the Trump era, redirected their reformist energy to the sclerotic machinery of the New Jersey Democratic Party. They believe they are on a long journey to upset and restructure the system.
Tuesday’s primary is just another stop along the way.
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Horseflies and rivals
These upheavals in the two major parties have shaped some key races. And the prospect of a low-turnout contest only increases the odds for “offline” party mavericks, horseflies and outcasts determined to make a difference.
Jack Ciattarelli, the Republican frontrunner for the gubernatorial post, has spent a lot to discredit a longtime rival, diehard Trumpist Hirsh Singh, an Atlantic County engineer who works in the aerospace industry.
The favorites generally ignore the gadfly’s perennial candidates, but Ciattarelli, who has garnered organizational support from the county’s 21 Republican organizations, treats Singh as a legitimate threat. Ciattarelli has spent the last week hammering Singh with a slew of negative ads on TV and in the mail.
Meanwhile, a thread of anxiety running through the establishment wing of the Democratic Party is expressed in the 37th district primary for the Bergen County State Senate, where two longtime members of the ‘Assembly are vying to succeed Senator Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, who is retiring.
The contest attracted interest and money from allies of a South Jersey Democratic Party organization, led by insurance director George E. Norcross III.
An independent spending group – funded by $ 1.25 million from the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s powerful teachers’ union – is running ads on behalf of MP Gordon Johnson, the former Bergen County sheriff who lives in Englewood. Johnson has the approval of the Bergen County Democratic Committee, the county’s official organization.
That endorsement – which brackets Johnson on the preferred voting position, or “row,” under Murphy – gives Johnson a huge advantage. Candidates who run on the line rarely lose.
Yet after examining the ads produced and aired by the Norcross-linked American Democracy Matters group, you might get the impression that Johnson’s race against Valerie Vainieri Huttle is a fierce fight – and close.
Huttle presents himself as a candidate outside the establishment and “offline” under the slogan “Real Bergen Democrats”. She presents herself as the deserving and ultra-liberal legatee of Weinberg’s progressive record and has garnered support from a range of progressive groups statewide, including Garden State Equality and New Jersey Working Families, including the leader. , Sue Altman, has been a constant thorn. on the Norcross side in Camden County politics.
Some race watchers believe the presence of American Democracy Matters is an attempt by South Jersey Democrats to treat working families and their allies a high-profile loss and to deflate their willingness to reform the Party’s systemic architecture. democrat of the state.
Altman certainly sees it that way. The investment in Bergen comes after a similar group linked to powerful South Jersey Democrats helped defeat a list of progressives running for office in Collingswood, Camden County, last month. This group won a surprise victory two years ago by winning seats in the Camden County Democratic Party.
“There is a defined and orchestrated effort to crush the progressive momentum in New Jersey,” Altman said.
The goal of Norcross and other Democrats of the status quo, she asserts, is to make the progressive movement an aberration, a “trend that lives and dies in the Trump era.”
But others are not convinced. Some seasoned observers say strategic pragmatism is fueling the effort, a long-term push by Norcross and his close ally, Senate Speaker Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, to expand and deepen influence within the Democratic caucus of the Senate.
“It’s always about lining up supporters for leadership positions,” said Fran Ehret, state director for the Communications Workers of America, the state’s largest union, which has mobilized supporters and telephone banks for the Huttle campaign.
Others see a more fundamental political style at play: a push not taken for granted by establishment Democrats.
“There’s an old adage in New Jersey politics: either you run unopposed or you’re scared,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy & Citizenship in Glassboro.
Dworkin also said the emergence of a well-funded South Jersey group is also a sign that they view Huttle’s campaign as a credible threat, although it has not countered the pro-Johnson publicity with its own. advertisement. Huttle relied primarily on a digital advertising campaign.
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Democrats:Why is a Camden group involved in a Bergen race? Norcross plays hardball in 37th | Amount
The Trumpist GOP base is a wild card
Ciattarelli also amassed a significant fundraising advantage over Singh and two other suitors, Phil Rizzo, the pastor of a small church in Hudson County, and Brian Levine, the former mayor of Franklin Township in the county. from Somerset.
He raised nearly $ 6.9 million and spent $ 5.9 million, nearly five times more than the other three candidates combined, according to the latest campaign documents. And a significant amount of that money was spent hammering Singh.
A recent poll of likely Republican voters which was commissioned by the Democratic Governors Association may explain Ciattarelli’s spending assault focused on Singh, who presented himself as the real Trumpian while lambasting Ciattarelli as a symbol cut from the Mitt mold. -Romney of the failed GOP establishment.
The poll also revealed deep devotion to Trump, with a large majority believing that Democratic President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected and that the January 6 riot in Washington was a “false flag” operation instigated by agents. from the left.
So, rather than float above the fray, Ciattarelli tries to push up Singh’s negatives. Ciattarelli may not really have a choice. Other polls over the past year suggest a deep polarization on issues that range from impeachment to the 2020 election and basic issues like infrastructure.
“It’s a legitimate question and a serious consideration: How is Trumpy the New Jersey GOP?” Said John Froonjian, executive director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at the University of Stockton, which measured partisan divide in New Jersey with a poll last year.
Ciattarelli could get that question answered on Tuesday.
Charlie Stile is a veteran political columnist. For unlimited access to his unique knowledge of New Jersey’s political power structure and his powerful watchdog work, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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