Winners and Losers: N.J. Election 2014

By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog

A little belated but with the proper perspective… so without further ado…

N.J. Winners

1. Chris Christie

This is a no-brainer. Is an active Tea Partier in Iowa or a Ron Paul fan in New Hampshire or South Carolina MORE likely to vote for Chris Christie because he led a stellar RGA showing last week? Probably not. But unless Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush join the 2016 GOP primary battle, there isn’t another candidate out there with anything close to the New Jersey’s Governor’s name recognition, fundraising power or operative network. Not by a long-shot. Base problems are always in flux; you can either raise significant money and mobilize an infrastructure or you can’t.

He’s got the skills to romp in the first debate (set for Sept. 15th at a venue he’s played – the Reagan Library) and all of that successful 2012 and 2014 down-ballot campaigning won him plenty of I.O.U.’s in key states. This year’s results almost guarantee renewed interest in the race from up to 35 potential candidates (as the media keeps count), so you can’t count the Big Guy out, especially not in a crowded primary field and definitely not after last Tuesday. Keep in mind: unlike the U.S. Senate map, Christie was primarily burdened with defenses yet still managed to net 3 pick ups.

2. New Jersey’s GOP Congressional Delegation

The Republican Party hasn’t had this many seats in the House of Representatives since before FDR. Historic gains could translate to big opportunities for the NJ GOP delegation. Chris Smith remains an international moral force as Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Scott Garrett is a conservative leader on TV and a force on Paul Ryan’s budget committee and the financial services committee, too. Freshman Tom MacArthur, ambitious and talented with the resources to back it up, may develop out-sized influence in the strengthened House Majority and move up quickly. Lobo? Armed Services. And lest we forget Rodney Frelinghuysen at the helm of the powerful Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Seniority is authority on Capitol Hill and our guys are garnering it. Expect dividends in the years to come since it’s going to take an FDR-sized wave to knock out the largest Republican House majority since the early 30s.

3. Jersey Shore Republicans

The Monmouth-Ocean-Atlantic-Cape May “Gold Coast” remained rock solid at the county level and, as I’ve mentioned at various other points in this post, each county made gains at the municipal level (e.g. in Cape May, the party organization looks to have gone 18-1-1 locally pending one local recount). Together, in terms of electoral importance, they’re the NJ GOP equivalent of Ohio in presidential politics: you can’t win with just Ohio but you certainly cannot win without it.

4. Chris Russell

New Jersey is home to many quality political operatives but none so prolific on the GOP side these days as Chris Russell. Already a favorite of legislative Republicans, his operation has expanded to include solid young Republican talent, notably Middlesex County’s own Rick Rosenberg. This cycle, the Ocean native’s consulting operation engineered Tom MacArthur’s NJ-03 victory in addition to big wins for the County Freeholder Board in Burlington, Cumberland, Monmouth, Somerset and Salem Counties and local election victories in East Brunswick, Caldwell, South River, Montgomery, Lacey, Moorestown, East Greenwich, Mount Laurel, Hightstown, Raritan Township and South Plainfield. He’s making a dent nationally, too, participating in various races in other states including the shockingly close Milne challenge in Vermont. 

5. Frank Luna

My friend Frank made a name for himself in state politics during the mid-2000s not just with campaign competence and a big personality but also a reputation for being 100% genuine in a business, if we’re being honest, that’s populated by snakes. He took a brief break from politics in spring 2013 but came back with a bang in 2014, sporting a beard and skateboard, working his native NJ-03 by teaming up with Chris Russell Consulting to manage the successful MacArthur campaign. After a big win in this nationally-target contest, he’s right back at the top of the NJ GOP operative pool and rightly so. We’re all better off for it both on and off of the electoral battlefield. Stay tuned…

6. Bill Layton and George Gilmore

The state’s last true GOP party bosses maintained a strong grip on their respective county fiefdoms and successfully replaced one Republican congressman with another despite a huge National Democrat investment. Thank God. They were here before Gov. Christie and now look certain to remain after he’s gone, and regardless of how you may feel about how they operate, they’re among the only things standing in the way of hegemonic Democrat machine domination of Southern New Jersey.

7. Frank LoBiondo

After last Tuesday, the only Cook PVI Democrat-leaning district left in New Jersey is Frank LoBiondo’s NJ-02. You wouldn’t have known it after his massive 25-point win against a Democrat opponent with name recognition; he even scored close to 60% of votes cast in Cumberland, the bluest part of his district. 2016 may still be Jeff Van Drew’s best shot to (finally) pull the rip cord and try his luck with a bluer-than-midterm electorate, but after this year’s performance, Lobo isn’t exactly putting out any weakness vibes. Retirement may be the Dems only realistic hope of retaking this seat anytime soon.

8. Young Republican candidates

Millennials had a good night led by our 20-something friend and former NJ College Republican chair Connor Montferrat, now councilman-elect in Hightstown, New Jersey. It’s a theme that we saw reflected nationally on Election Night across the fruited plains. A new red wave is rising, Save Jerseyans… we’ll continue to update you on their progress.

9. “Blue” County Republicans Running Locally

For example: Democrat-dominated Middlesex County went for Chris Christie twice; under the leadership of GOP Chairman and State Senator Sam Thompson, the party scored big wins this time around in South River, Milltown, Middlesex Borough, South Plainfield, and East Brunswick. We profiled South Plainfield’s GOP right here at Save Jersey. That town has now re-elected its first GOP mayor since 1962. The overarching point? Winning in the Garden State isn’t a bridge-to-far for Republicans willing to work. Visit Middlesex this upcoming January for all the proof you’ll need.

10. Patrick Murray

One again New Jersey’s most eerily accurate public pollster.

N.J. Losers

1. Bergen Republicans

Okay. Want my as-of-yet withheld two cents on the Donovan loss, Save Jerseyans? Just too much history. No one person or faction is to blame; it was a group effort! As corrupt and terrible as the Ferriero/McNerney years were for the county, since almost the beginning of the GOP reconquista in 2010, we’ve seen nothing in the papers and on the blogs but endless stories of Republican intriguing and infighting which, eventually, spilled over into very public spats between the Executive and the Sheriff,  the Freeholder Board and the Executive, Chairman Yudin’s faction and other factions, and among the GOP freeholders themselves at various points in time.

A slow, painful bleed in full view of the public.

Frankly, I think Bergen voters got tired of hearing/reading about it (much the same as an endless drumbeat of bad news destroyed the Obama mythology at the national level) and decided to make a change. They’ll regret it to be sure once the Dems revert to their old tricks, but until such time as they do, it’ll be the challenge of Bergen’s GOP leadership, present and future, to put together a better, united product in New Jersey’s most populous battleground. The Bergen Republican brand is now officially in worse shape than the national GOP brand. Not where you want to be ahead of another control opportunity in 2015! One word: rehabilitation.

2. The South Jersey Machine

The Machine did score some big wins by consolidating power locally in Camco towns, forcing out Gloria Noto in Cumberland County with a ridiculous amount of cash for a county race and, of course, landing a Norcross in the U.S. House of Representatives albeit by a weaker than expected margin (not an inspiring showing ahead of a gubernatorial primary, btw). None of that good stuff was unexpected.

However, the Machine also lost out on some potentially-significant ground in county and local races in Cumberland, Salem, Cape May and Atlantic counties. They held in Glouco but, notably, Donald Norcross LOST that portion of his district to Garry Cobb. South Jersey’s Machine did prove its reach goes well-beyond New Jersey by flying in high-level names (Reid, Pelosi) and manipulating the DCCC/House Majority PAC into abandoning competitive Dems to buoy the brother’s margin in a safe district, but none of those “friends” got stronger after this year’s result (least of all Harry Reid).

2014 was also the year that the Machine-backed Newark candidate lost, Burlco’s freeholder board stayed Republican, the Inky newsroom changed hands and, more recently, news of a bizarre death rocked South Jersey political circles. What’s more, 2017 is looking less likely to be a walk for the first promising South Jersey gubernatorial campaign since Florio.

Bottom line: still strong but running up against its natural limits?

3. New Jersey Democrats Generally

See #2 above for starters. Democrats outside of the Camden County immediate sphere of influence were unable to expand the map last Tuesday (with the very notable exception of Bergen’s executive contest). They lost takeover attempts, too, in blue counties like Passaic and contested territory like Monmouth. Who knows where they’d be today without gerrymandering?

An equally good question: what might they have accomplished without an unapologetically self-interested regional Camco-Gloucester machine calling the shots for the other 19 counties? Belgard, Cho and plenty of others have opinions they’ll undoubtedly keep to themselves. For now.

Yes, they took down Kathe Donovan in Bergen. That’s all you’ve read about, and I won’t say it’s not sucky for the GOP. But where else did they have a particularly good night? The rest of their victories were expected (e.g. NJ-12) or by smaller-than-expected margins (e.g. NJ-01, Cory Booker). They lost ground locally, too, in a few key counties for 2015 legislative contests (see below). Think about it: Booker won by 14! Wow! But that’s in a state Obama won by nearly 20, and Booker boasts celebrity-level name recognition and a vanquished opponent without two nickles to rub together in his campaign account. 

Blame the GOP wave if you want and assume it’s temporary but, as a general matter, I think N.J. Dems do so at their peril. Republican candidates proved up-and-down the ballot on Tuesday that New Jersey is more blue-ish purple than deep blue. 

4. Bob Menendez

Everyone’s favorite Caribbean tourist will lose his shortly-held chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after Tuesday’s GOP takeover, likely to Tennessee’s Bob Corker. What’s worse, after the celebrity Cory Booker only managed to beat a Republican nominee without any television ads by 14-points this cycle, I don’t see why anyone would take a pass on challenging Menendez in 2018, the first midterm of Hilldwag’s presidency? Let’s start planning now.

5. Aimee Belgard

Rarely has so much hype amount to absolutely nothing! NJ-03 was supposed to be competitive in 2014. What we now know: her campaign was 100% propped up by outside spending and collapsed even before the spigot turned off. Freeholder Belgard must now fight for survival in 2015, an off-year, to keep her county seat against a Burlington County Republican organization fresh off a big 2014 defensive win and hungry to expand its slim 3-2 majority by taking her down.

6. Roy Cho

Here’s another guy who was supposed to be threatening but ended up getting spanked by a double-digit margin by Scott Garrett in NJ-05. The DCCC and House Majority PAC didn’t see anything in him worth the investment. I agree. #emptysuit!

7. Mainstream Media Political Coverage

Layoffs precipitated by declining readership is taking a real toll on local political coverage. Want to read about a local council race or school bond question? Good luck! Searching online is your only shot in the dark. One example: our old pal Art Gallagher’s blow-by-blow coverage of Monmouth’s Election 2014 county race over at the MoreMonmouthMusings blog ran circules around the Asbury Park Press. A sign of the times? Yup; print is dying and local/regional political coverage is increasingly the province of blogs. Long live the new media! The problem for a public hungry for news lies in this “gap” period where blogs like Save Jersey, MMM, and a growing pool of other sites expand rapidly but not quickly enough to afford a newsroom!

8. The Long-Suffering New Jersey Taxpayer

We do it to ourselves. The passage of Ballot Question 2 is a disaster; click here to read my breakdown of the taxes, debt, and other nasty stuff coming out way all for the sake of solving a non-problem. Next up? A gas tax hike in 2015. It never ends…

9. Statewide GOP Prospects

For all of the good Republican news on the “win” side of this list, Save Jerseyans, it’s hard to overlook another severe spanking in the U.S. Senate race (as much as I’d like to forget it ever happened). I mean, there wasn’t a SINGLE Jeff Bell TV ad! The New Jersey Republican establishment didn’t recruit a viable candidate to take on Cory Booker and there’s little indication that we’re any better positioned to field a successful statewide campaign today, November 12, 2014, than we were before the Christie era began. I am NOT one of the people who thinks it’s going to be nearly impossible for a Republican to run and succeed Chris Christie. I am saying that nothing about Election 2014 inspires optimism in me.

10. The Democratic Process

How often do you hear politicians complain about low voter turnout? But without making any mention of gerrymandering? We all lose when quality candidates like Dr. Alieta Eck (R, NJ-12) can’t force a competitive contest – and educate the electorate in the process – simply because of the way her district is drawn.


9 thoughts on “Winners and Losers: N.J. Election 2014

  1. <<lost by 21 out of 1247 votes in a blue town where registered Dems outnumber GOP 900-500

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