By Jim Pezzullo | The Save Jersey Blog
A whopping 59% of Americans have a negative view of the GOP, while a smaller majority – 50% – feel negatively about the Democrats. In the early 90s, the GOP polled at 53% favorable, and peaked in 2002 at 61% favorable. It’s hard to dispute that the Republican brand has been tarnished in recent years for any number of reasons.
So the question is: how are Republicans doing so well in so many Senate races despite crushing negativity towards their party? And how can this help Jeff Bell in a state where voters are hugely dissatisfied with both parties?
The answer lies in the candidates themselves.
Joni Ernst, Iowa’s Republican nominee, is a likable, dynamic woman with a career in the military and an old-school Iowa upbringing. She’s winning because she presents a stark contrast to Democrat Bruce Braley, who was caught on tape insulting Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) as being a “farmer who never went to law school.” Though the Republican brand at the federal level is sinking in Iowa – a state that voted for the Democrat in 4 of the last 5 presidential elections – a strong, likable nominee is able to get past any negativity towards the national GOP and looks slated to win (albeit narrowly) based on her own brand, not her party or her issue positions.
Which brings us back to New Jersey. When the dust settled on the primary, Jeff Bell had edged my dad, Rich Pezzullo, by just 3.3 points – the second-closest Senate primary in America. While I was disappointed, I was also glad that the GOP was putting forth a very strong candidate. There are three key facts that demonstrate the increasing possibility of a Bell victory in November.
(1) He’s polling well without a single ad. Bell has yet to run an advertisement of any description in the general election campaign. Granted, neither has Booker, but this is a very good sign – without any exposure to the general electorate, Bell is polling just 7 (!!!) points behind the “unbeatable” Cory Booker. For an on-point comparison, Scott Brown is polling ten points behind Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, in a race that isn’t considered safely Democratic – Cook and RCP both consider it “leaning” race.
(2) He’s immensely likable. Bell is over 70 years old, but you might not know it by talking to him. He’s still vibrant in conversation, active on his feet, and very relatable. This is a necessary attribuate for any candidate running against Cory Booker, who is known for his charisma and ability to connect with people. It also gives Bell a much-needed talking point to use against Booker: try as he might to seem like one, Cory Booker is not like you and I. He hasn’t been in Washington for a full year, and yet he’s already more concerned with affairs there than in New Jersey. He has become part of the elite that he campaigned against in his Newark mayoral races.
(3) He’s experienced, but he isn’t part of the problem. Most Americans view most or all politicians in a negative light – I don’t think I need to cite any poll data for you on that one. Mr. Bell is not a politician, but it’s impossible to argue that he’s inexperienced. He’s a Columbia graduate and has been shaping economic policy for much of his life – including serving as a key architect of the Reagan Revolution that many Americans remember fondly. He’s got the real, tangible solutions New Jersey voters will be looking for. Cory Booker has his own set of economic policies, but I’m sure most voters will find striking similarities between his and those of Mr. Obama.
Unfortunately, many people within our party believe that Senator Booker is invincible. But in reality, he is far more vulnerable than last year. On July 30, 2013, Booker’s RCP average in the special election contest with Steve Lonegan was 52%. Today, it’s 47%, running against a much less-known nominee. Booker only won last year by 10.6-points. If Booker has already fallen off by 5 points, who’s to say we can’t take off 5 more in the coming months?
Hope and optimism are something you might not expect to see on the Republican side in a New Jersey Senate race. But if we can rally the Republican party, together with independents (among whom Bell is leading by 8 points in the most recent public survey), then 2014 can be our year.
Even in “blue” Jersey.