Camden GOP’s unusual Christie event protest highlights statewide dilemma



By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog

It’s been a strange cycle in more ways than one, Save Jerseyans.

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) visits a Camden, NJ classroom in January 2014.
Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) visits a Camden, NJ classroom in January 2014.

For starters, we don’t ordinarily have Assembly members atop the November ballot. Turnout, for that reason and others, is expected to barely top 20% (more in a few contested areas but less everywhere else). Super PACs have also rapidly overtaken parties as the driver of campaign activity.

Governor Chris Christie has also been conspicuously quiet save for a few well-attended but under-publicized GOP fundraisers. At the same time, while presidential pursuits and statewide job disapproval have kept the Governor off of the official Garden State campaign trail circuit, one factor remains consistent:

His detente/functional alliance with South Jersey Democrats.

It hasn’t come without consequences. Camden County Republicans tell Save Jersey that they only discovered after-hours on Friday that Governor Christie, who hasn’t campaigned with Southwest Jersey Republicans in years, was visiting Camden on Monday for a round-table discussion with Mayor Dana Redd and Scott Thompson, the chief of the newly-formed county police department. Sources say the chairman, Tom Booth, was among those who didn’t get a customary heads up.

Granted, Governor Christie’s support for a county police department is nothing new nor are his sojourns to the City of Camden. His close working relationship with the machine and campaign-season appearances with major machine figures on the ballot are also a matter of public record. What’s particularly controversial about this trip is the timing – Election Eve – shortly after the Camden County Republican slate led by freeholder hopeful Theodore “Teddy” Liddell launched a 72-hour cable TV commercial buy calling for an end to the experimental county police and in the midst of an accompany mailer blitz.

The Governor’s visit is part of a larger national media blitz on Monday’s cable stations programs on CNN and MSNBC during which he’s said, forcefully, that President Obama isn’t doing enough for law enforcement. The blitz, however, comes just months after a joint Obama-Christie Camden appearance celebrating the regionalization effort.

Now Camden County Republicans insist the visit isn’t a coincidence especially given the alleged lack of notice, and they’re planning something extraordinary: a protest of the GOP governor near the Camden County Police Headquarters on Federal Street in Camden.

It’s an extraordinary step based on an extraordinary accusation.

“We didn’t want it to come to this,” said Steve Kush, a veteran GOP operative who worked a Christie ’09 field rep, in a statement. “As a campaign we decided we can no longer ignore the Governor’s lack of respect for our county party chairman or the candidates and their campaigns. The governor goes to Ocean, Burlington or Atlantic counties and those Republican chairmen are notified, he comes to Camden or Gloucester, the heart of Norcross country, our chairman learns from the newspaper and the governor stands with our opponents, it’s unacceptable, and will no longer be tolerated. Four visits to the county to support a Democratic Party Boss and his machine politicians is too many.”

GOP DEBATELike I said… it’s been a strange cycle, made no less strange by the strange nature of the Christie era political climate.

Yet regardless of how you feel about the actual substance of the round table’s topic (regional policing), Save Jerseyans, or whom you blame for what’s been happening in Jersey politics, we all need to acknowledge that the problem represented by today’s Camden GOP conflagration is very real. Painfully so.

Southwest Jersey isn’t the only NJ GOP trouble spot as of late. A lack of resources and attention for candidates running outside of a handful of perceived competitive legislative districts has deepened dissension in the New Jersey Republican ranks, and it’s not getting any better but worse as time marches forward. 

You’ve heard about it and read about it, too, certainly here and elsewhere.

Many blame the Administration albeit less loudly than the Camden Republican slate. Plenty of others verbally shrug and point to Bridgegate’s fallout or the state’s long-trending ‘blue’ tint. Some of the insiders’ ongoing debate centers on campaign strategic disagreements.

I think it’s wrong to lay the blame at any single person’s feet. This situation has been years in the making, but the end result is not open for debate: the state GOP is reassuming its pre-Christie regional character.

This isn’t news for regular readers. A few places – Ocean and the Northwest counties, for example – will remain strongly “red” for patently obvious reasons no matter who is the governor while the rest of the state rapidly falls back under the influence of Democrat power brokers and other local influences unchallenged by any sort of centralized, genuinely statewide GOP infrastructure… like they were before Chris Christie openly hit the scene in late 2008/early 2009.

The challenge for 2016, 2017 and forward: How do we rebuild a statewide party presence? At a time when the state itself is functionally succumbing to single-party rule? And is there a 2017 gubernatorial candidate who can right the ship?

Again, we’ve talked about it all before as you well know and, trust me, we will again after tomorrow. For now? Don’t worry about the view from 30,000 feet. Go get out of the vote. It’ll take your mind off things and do some good, too, for all of the local candidates who need and deserve your help.

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