Diane Allen courts Trump supporters on campaign as NJ Republican running mate Jack Ciattarelli

In a New Jersey farming setting that included the barn where she learned to milk cows as a child, Diane Allen spoke out against high taxes, closed businesses and long lines at the motor vehicle commission . She touted her story as a state senator who championed women’s rights. And she remembered her first run for public office – a campaign she lost.

“They told me I didn’t know how to play the game,” Allen, 73, told supporters at a Burlington County farm earlier this month during his nomination as the Republican candidate for the post of lieutenant governor. “I still don’t know how to do this, and I don’t want to know it.”

As GOP gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli seeks to overthrow Governor Phil Murphy in November – in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a million – adding Allen to the ticket could be a way to attract centrist voters more inclined to vote Republican now that Donald Trump has left the White House. She represented a Democratic-leaning district for two decades, was known to work across the aisle, and never expressed her full support for Trump.

“The way people decide to vote for you is on a personal level,” said Allen, who retired from Trenton in 2018, in an interview earlier this month. “Not just the words you say, but the way you support them. … I’ve always thought that party politics shouldn’t be the most important thing.

But days after joining the ticket, she said in a radio interview that she voted for Trump because she feared Joe Biden would “tear this country apart,” citing undocumented immigrants spreading COVID-19 as something something she feared.

“Right now I’m watching all these people with COVID crossing the border, and that scares me,” Allen said on the New Jersey Globe Power Hour on Talk Radio 77 WABC. “They are put on buses. I suspect some of them are coming to New Jersey – not a good idea. Whether the people who are being driven from the border carrying illegal guns, or drugs, or whatever. So there are a lot of things happening that I didn’t want to see continue, and that’s why I voted for Trump.

READ MORE: Diane Allen, former lawmaker and presenter for Philly, to be GOP candidate for lieutenant governor of NJ

Democrats and Latino groups condemned his comments as racist, and Senator Bob Menendez (D., NJ) used them in a fundraising email, claiming that Allen “seeks to demonize Hispanics and stir up the fear”. Murphy, who has previously praised Allen’s political career, called the comments “tin foil hat stuff.”

Public health experts say there is no evidence that undocumented migrants are significantly drive the spread of the coronavirus.

In the same radio interview, Allen said she wanted to look at the state’s concealed gun laws, adding that when public shootings happen in states like Texas, “there’s usually someone there. who has a gun that can take them out. “

Speak to The Inquirer again Allen last week said it was wrong to interpret her comments as a signal to the far right and said she did not blame immigrants for the ongoing pandemic. She said the virus is only part of her larger concern about border security.

“Our government is doing a bad job in the face of this,” she said. “I was afraid that [Biden] was not going to be able to run the country. And this is what is happening.

She added that while she finds Trump “personally disgusting,” she believes the border would be under control if he was in office.

State Senator Loretta Weinberg, Democratic Majority Leader who has worked with Allen for years, described her as “accomplished, intelligent and sophisticated,” a key ally in passing legislation. She was surprised by Allen’s comments, as she couldn’t remember them ever talking about guns or immigration.

“Coming out of the gate with concealed weapons was confusing,” Weinberg noted. “Talking about the spread of COVID by immigrants was also confusing. I almost had this feeling of ‘What did you do with Diane Allen?’ “

Bill Palatucci, one of New Jersey’s top Republicans and longtime adviser to former Governor Chris Christie, called Allen a “victim of modern media and reporting.”

“She has held 1,000 positions and accomplishments throughout her distinguished career and you want to focus on a couple of instances where her views now more closely match the party candidate,” he said in an email. . “Voters will focus on and be interested in his full experience and comprehensive record of public service.”

If Murphy won a second term, he would be the first Democratic governor of New Jersey in decades to be re-elected. It is widely regarded as the frontrunner, backed by voter approval for his pandemic response and a growing Democratic enrollment advantage. A poll last week found him 16 percentage points ahead, with Ciattarelli and Allen still largely unknown to voters.

Ciattarelli, a former member of the assembly who also had a reputation as a moderate in Trenton, prevailed over two other pro-Trump candidates in the June primary. Like Allen, he has been accused of making inflammatory comments to appeal to Trump’s staunchest supporters.

He pledged in June to cancel the LGBTQ program in schools, according to images obtained by Gothamist and WNYC radio, saying that under his leadership, “we are not teaching gender identity and sexual orientation to children. kindergarten children. We don’t teach sodomy in sixth grade.

When advocates called the comments offensive and anti-gay, Ciattarelli said he only meant that parents, not schools, should decide when their children learn “mature content.” Allen, one of two senators to cross party lines to support same-sex marriage in 2012, agrees.

Allen, who also worked as a Philadelphia TV reporter, is perhaps best known for her work on a law that protects women from pay discrimination. Murphy signed the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act in 2018. The bill grew out of Allen’s own experience being paid less than his male counterparts as a journalist.

Allen said she came out of retirement because she was troubled by what she sees as crumbling utilities and an unsustainable cost of living. She had worked with Ciattarelli for over a year as a campaign consultant before he asked her to become a candidate, and they share the same political goals. Both focused on high taxes, a perennial campaign problem in New Jersey, and criticism of Murphy’s handling of the pandemic – particularly business closures and the high rate of death in nursing homes. nurses.

“I always think I have something left to give,” she said. “I think I can still help improve this condition.”

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