Conventional wisdom says that a Democrat will win this year’s New Jersey gubernatorial election. After all, the current Republican governor has been a disaster. His economic policies have caused our state to lag the rest of the region in recovering from the Bush Recession. His on-again, off-again bromance with SCROTUS has tarnished his tough guy image. Bridgegate was the tip of the iceberg in an administration rife with cronyism.
But just like conventional wisdom prematurely put Hillary Clinton in the White House, don’t discount the possibility of a Republican succeeding a failed party comrade in New Jersey. Democrats, who are fond of eating their young and ignoring the wisdom of the masses, may be on another path to disaster.
The party establishment jumped the gun by anointing former Goldman Sachs millionaire Jon Corzine Phil Murphy a year and a half before the election. Make no mistake – Murphy would be a more progressive governor than any of the top-seeded GOP contenders. But whether it’s fair or not, the Corzine albatross hangs around his neck – not something that will get progressive Democrats or independent voters to the polls in an off-year election.
Republicans, of course, have their own issues. Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno has spent the last six months distancing herself from Christie. Of course, she has her own scandals to explain away but she’s spent the last eight years courting donors and voters in her role as Secretary of State and Christie stand-in. Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli is also running. He’s good in front of a television camera and has also started to distance himself from a generally pro-Christie voting record.
Then there’s the wildcard. Saturday Night Live’s Joe Piscopo is vying to follow in the footsteps of Al Franken, another SNL alum, by entering the political fray. Piscopo has indicated that he is considering running as an independent, which could make things easier for the GOP nominee.
A bit of math is in order: Suppose Piscopo manages to skim off 20 percent of the votes, based on his name recognition and people who are fed up with the major parties. And assume the voter turnout is 25 percent – a tad better than the turnout four years ago. Then the other 80 percent of the people who go to the polls represent only 20 percent of the registered voters. Hence, it would only take a bit more than 10 percent of registered voters to select our next governor. This makes voter turnout the most important issue, and voter turnout is correlated with two things: money (which both parties will have) and enthusiasm – something that Murphy so far has not evoked among many Democrats and Independents.
Our next governor will become a big factor in the 2020 legislative and congressional redistricting activities. So he or she will not just set the course for the next four years, but for the next decade. It would be a good idea if people could channel at least some of their anti-Trump energy into ensuring that New Jersey’s next governor is one that our people could be proud of.