promoted by the_promised_land – an interesting step back on the state of the Democratic Party in New Jersey in 2012 from a new writer. Welcome, jackstanton!
The title question is, perhaps, overly provocative. As any presidential map since 1992 illustrates, New Jersey is a blue state. But as someone who has spent the past year away, serving merely as an enthusiastic observer, I hope you don’t mind me sharing a couple concerns about the state of things headed into the November elections.
While there are many obstacles facing New Jersey Democrats, there are a couple challenges that are paramount. (1) Not having one central democrat to act as a foil to the Governor allows Christie to frame many of the policy debates, (2) Congressional redistricting removed a Democratic seat, (3) factions within the legislative ranks has made it hard to unilaterally oppose Christie’s anti-middle class policies, and (4) a lack of recognition among many that the future of the State Party relies on all of its members working together toward common goals.
I don’t think any of these challenges would come as a surprise to a reader of BlueJersey, which has fastidiously documented them. I did want to list them though, because if we’re not careful, I do think they might come back to haunt us in November.
There is the very real possibility of ending up with an even 50.50 Congressional split, we have a Governor who has no problem forwarding his agenda, and we are facing the prospect of a difficult re-election race for Senator Menendez. It is a worrisome political climate for Democrats. I don’t have any unique insight into any of these issues, but as I wrote at the start, I want to share some concerns as a mere observer.
On the first challenge: until a Democrat emerges as the key opposition to Christie, which might not be until after the Democratic Gubernatorial primary, he has the largest microphone in the state. Coupled with Christie’s penchant for yelling, I don’t see any respite from his loudmouthed politics. I do wonder whether there isn’t more that can and should be done to create a coherent and unified opposition?
There is a great deal of discontent; here on BlueJersey and among statewide progressives, over Christie’s policies and the direction he is taking the state. However, as the recent Farleigh Dickinson poll showed, the voters do not yet share these concerns. Instead of sporadic anti-Christie messaging, from various Senators, Assemblymen, and the State Party, there should be a solidified message coming from these sources. At the very least, the eventual nominee would benefit from a Governor who is not allowed to imperially govern. Perhaps there is far more cooperation than it appears, but at the moment Democrats are projecting a haphazard set of messages.
Just one example, with Christie traipsing around the country for his buddy-Romney, why was he allowed to stay largely separate from the national furor over Limbaugh’s sexist comments? Not only did Limbaugh once declare on his radio show, “I love Chris Christie,” but this is the same Governor who cut $7.5 million from women’s health and family planning programs in the 2011 budget. Senator Weinberg has been a valiant advocate to restore these cuts, but more needs to be done to expose his war on women. The only justifiable reason why he has a six-point edge (46-40) with women is that the true costs of his policies have not been made clear.
On the second challenge: it was truly regrettable that NJ lost a Congressional seat. But this should not be the final word. One of the pitfalls of laking a central democratic leader is that there was no one to negotiate a solution to the Rothman-Pascrell fight. And perhaps their clash was the inevitable result of redistricting. Nonetheless, allowing so much blue blood to be spilt while Scott Garrett continues his regressive policies is a travesty. While I understand the complications with finding a well-financed challenger to Garrett, as has been mentioned previously on BlueJersey, there should have been contingency plans in place for such an outcome. Democrats sat on their hands up to and through redistricting, without ever meeting to discuss what to do in case redistricting went poorly.
They should have discussed in advance what to do if two districts like Rothman’s and Pascrell’s were combined, and there should have been a move to mediate the civil war. The reason this is important, is if Democrats are not careful, the tenth district could become another such quagmire. Leading to millions of dollars wasted in an intra-party fight between members who are equally progressive, while Chris Christie and his conservative cohorts continue their campaign against New Jersey’s middle class.
On the third challenge: the nicknamed “Christie-crats” have severely weakened the bargaining position of Democrats. What is worse is that they have severely weakened the progressive cause. I don’t believe compromise is a dirty word, but too-often these members capitulate without even a proper negotiation. There is no quick fix. So long as machine-politics remains dominant, there will be members who answer the calls of their bosses rather than their duty to the voters and to the progressive values they profess to hold.
On the fourth and final challenge: we need to recognize as a Party in New Jersey that we are interwoven in common destiny. Too often, selfish political interests have come before our values and the strength of our Party. 2010 was undoubtedly a bad year to be a Democrat running for Congress. But what is noticeable is that statewide, Republican candidates for Congress received more votes than their Democratic opponents (51-49). This is not only because it was a bad political year, but also the Republicans were far more willing to invest in and run aggressive campaigns in “unwinnable” districts than the Democrats. Even Chris Christie was willing to join campaign events for such candidates, while Democrats in the State seem to ignore these same types of candidates.
This is important, because unless there is a shift in thinking, the new 5th District, along with all the other Democratic “unwinnable” seats will be ignored. This is a fatal mistake, as we saw in 2010, the lack of aggressive Congressional efforts can have a wider impact.
Senator Menendez, despite his sizable war chest, faces a tough campaign against Christie’s handpicked candidate. Menendez needs as much support as Democrats can provide. Active Congressional campaigns in Districts across the state that turn out Democrats can make a big difference. Although people often like to talk about it being a presidential election year, the Obama campaign is unlikely to invest any significant resources in the state. Coupled with safe Democratic incumbents who don’t see a need to run aggressive campaigns, this could have a significant impact on the Senate race. If Democrats are not careful, Menendez could find himself up against the wall, fighting alone. It would be a travesty to lose him in the Senate.
In short, if Democrats don’t want New Jersey to become a purple state, then there is a need to step up and reexamine how we are addressing our political challenges. Forwarding pro-middle class progressive policies, defeating Christie in 2013, retaining Menendez, and winning back our Congressional majority will be challenging. It requires not only an energetic and engaged progressive community, but a statewide strategy among Democrats to ensure we work together for one common purpose: making New Jersey strong again.