Although the 2017 gubernatorial general election is still three years away, we already see people jockeying for position. Sen. President Sweeney is traveling throughout the state and by all appearances is tailoring his statements and actions (state pension payments, Atlantic City, etc.) with a view toward Drumthwacket. Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop has formed a crime-fighting alliance with other municipalities and on Monday will host an all-star cast of celebrities including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Chris Christie, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, and former NJ governors Jim McGreevey and Tom Kean. Today we learn that wealthy Philip Murray, former Obama Ambassador to Germany, Goldman Sachs executive, and national Democratic fundraiser has been spreading five-figure checks to several county parties. Undoubtedly other Democrats would love to join the fray, but are still weighing their chances.
The 2005 open gubernatorial race which Democrat Jon Corzine won was very different from what we might face in the open 2017 race. There the super-wealthy Corzine had extremely weak competition in the primary defeating his challengers 208,000 votes to 20,000 (James Kelly) and 9,000 (Francis Tenagio). The very wealthy Republican Doug Forrester in a field of 7 candidates won with 109,000 votes against 94,000 (Bret Shundler) and 99,000 (five other candidates including Steve Lonegan.) For 2017 there may well be more highly competitive Democratic candidates (Sweeney, Fulop, Murray and others) and fewer competitive Republicans whose field at this point looks unclear and not particularly strong.
In 2009 with the severe recession underway and Corzine losing popularity Chris Christie beat him 1,175,000 votes to 1,088,000 in a fairly close election. In 2013 Christie harnessed every lever of state power and out-of-state donors to garner a huge war chest and bullying power over local politicians (Democrats and Republicans). He faced the progressive State Senator Barbara Buono while other potential Democratic challengers demurred and most did little to help her. Such led to Christie’s 61% crowning victory (1,279,000 votes vs. 810,000) in spite of lousy economic management and an over-the-top, often nasty, personality. The election was quickly followed by Christie’s Bridgegate, Sandy mismanagement, lengthy absences from New Jersey, and even worse economic missteps.
The next gubernatorial election may be upon us sooner than we think should Christie resign while in office, and such could help Republican LG Kim Guadagno, but whenever the next election is held, the Democrats should be better positioned than they were 2009 or 2013.