Winners and Losers: 2016

It was admittedly a much easier year to pick losers and “fate yet to be decided” candidates, Save Jerseyans, but I did my best. You expect it.

This is self-explanatory so, without further ado….

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Winners

PHIL MURPHY

Duh? The Democrat multi-millionaire locked up the 2017 gubernatorial nomination in record time before the Republican front runner even announced. He’s the odds on favorite to succeed Chris Christie unless, of course, the NJ GOP can get its act together… so yeah, he’ll start measuring the drapes shortly if he hasn’t already! If he loses next year? He’ll join Hillary Clinton in the ranks of the biggest upset victims of all time. Let’s see if the Corzine 2.0 tag sticks; this gentleman certainly deserves it. More on that in the new year….

KELLYANNE CONWAY

She didn’t get the job she really wanted — running a lucrative, third party pro-Trump organization — but the former Blueberry Princess went from being a respected albeit publicly obscure political operative to a full-fledged national political celebrity with a White House job and easy access to any news network. Her ticket is officially punched.

Tom MacArthur

TOM MACARTHUR 

The newly-reelected Republican Congressman just romped to a 60% victory in a district that Democrat presidential candidates typically carry. Chris Christie’s endorsement doesn’t mean much these days, true, although he still has some political sense, and he reportedly believes MacArthur is a man of the future in state politics. Scott Garrett’s fate up north is a cautionary tale to be sure, but as of this writing, Tom MacArthur is sitting awfully pretty.

HARRISON NEELEY

Ran MacArthur’s campaign and will play a huge role in selecting/fielding NJ GOP Senate candidates next year as Tom Kean, Jr.’s most trusted young talent.

DON MCGAHN

The Atlantic City native is President-elect Trump’s incoming White House Counsel.

SAVE JERSEY and OTHER ‘NEW MEDIA’ OUTLETS

Yeah, I put my own site on the #winner list. Don’t like it? Make your own damn list!

But in all seriousness, as is obvious enough to anyone paying attention, 2016 was a disastrous year for the so-called ‘mainstream’ or old guard media. With the notable exception of The Washington Post, the liberal goliaths continue to hemorrhage readership to independent alternatives at the national and regional level. Why? Because long before ‘fake news’ emerged as a litmus test for the losers of the information wars, Americans began to figure out that the garbage they were digesting from CBS/NBC/ABC/AP/CNN/NYT, etc., was exactly that… garbage. Fake, filtered garbage designed to press a singular worldview at the expense of the truth. Save Jersey is only one small piece of the puzzle but our own surging traffic – and the Election 2016 results – are all the proof you need of what I’m arguing.

BILL STEPIEN

This year’s Lazarus Award goes to Chris Christie’s former campaign manager. He was the first casualty in the Bridgegate saga (fired by Christie for allegedly failing to act) but he’s presently the leading mind in Lt. Gov. Guadagno’s campaign stable and, according to published reports, under consideration for White House political director. The irony is thick enough to cut with a knife!

ADAM GELLER

One of the few Christie World folks to survive the Trumpian purge, Geller emerged from 2016 as the insider crowd’s face of the Trump campaign’s secret polling successes (i.e. recognizing blue states where Hillary had hit her ceiling).

JENNIFER BECK and KIP BATEMAN

Arguably 2017’s most vulnerable Republican State Senate incumbents, the pair of Central Jersey moderates took the right populist stand against the gas tax and forged a close working relationship with NJ 101.5’s Bill Spadea in the process. It ain’t going to be easy but hey, at the very least, they’ve taken their 2015 running mates’ defeats seriously. That’s promising.

MIKE FRIEDMAN

A rare Republican triumph in one of Camden County’s bluer towns, this popular and hard-working Jewish Republican attorney has been re-elected twice now despite the best efforts of Machine Democrats to dislodge him from Voorhees Township committee in a presidential cycle. A future LD6 legislative prospective? It’s possible, particularly if Republicans get a better map a few cycles down the road. Friedman is young enough to wait.

KEVIN ROONEY

The new Assemblyman (and his faction in LD40) prevailed in a rough internal struggle. More fighting ahead in 2017….

AL BARLAS

Essex GOP Chairman and O’Toole protege, Barlas had every GOP gubernatorial hopeful at his Christmas Party for a reason. Essex might be blue but Al is a state-wide GOP player with deep ties in Trenton and throughout the Northern counties.

JOSH GOTTHEIMER

Step #1: Topple Scott Garrett in 2016.

Step #2: ________________?

Step #3: Avoid the 2010 John Adler one-and-done in a reddish district problem in 2018.

CHRIS BROWN 

The straight-shooting Atlantic County Assemblyman stood firm in 2017 as a leading critic of the Trenton establishment and their casino referendum which failed in spectacular fashion. His regional Democrat counterparts waffled while he forged alliances with non-traditional Republican groups including beleaguered casino workers. He’s well-positioned to make a run at the tiring Jim Whelan’s State Senate seat if he wants it.

Shaun Golden

SHAUN GOLDEN

The freshman Monmouth GOP Chairman and veteran sheriff weathered an all-out assault from outside Democrat forces to win reelection himself and keep all county offices in Republican hands. Golden faces another tough challenge this fall as Democrat Super PACs bombard vulnerable legislators in LD11 and possibly LD13, but if things go poorly, it won’t be for lack of a party organization for which Golden has thus far proven to be a more-than-capable steward.

TOM SZYMANSKI

The 20-something Jersey Shore operative handed the Monmouth Democrats their own asses despite an avalanche of money working against him. How? The old fashioned way… grit, determination, skill, long hours running numbers and telling candidates/locals what they needed to hear. One of the NJ GOP’s men of the future if it wants to accomplish anything anytime soon.

BILL LAYTON/BURLCO GOP

Like his counterpart in Monmouth County, the Burlington County Republican Chairman maintained full control of his county offices this fall despite a decisive win for Hillary Clinton at the county-wide level. If N.J. Democrats can’t beat Bill Layton’s organization in a presidential cycle? With a Clinton racking up double-digits wins state-wide? It ain’t going to happen in the near term, demographics be damned. Layton also continues to play a key leadership role in the state party both as a county chairman and a lobbyist; most recently, he seems to be playing the role of neutral sherpa for SNL’s Joe Piscopo who is exploring a gubernatorial run.

AL GABURO/SOMERSET GOP

See Layton’s above. Republicans in a nominally GOP county winning big despite strong opposition…. the only way we can win in this state.

MIKE DOHERTY

Supported Trump early? Check. Rigidly conservative on the right issues including the gas tax opposition movement? Check. It wouldn’t be easy, but there could be an opening for the North Jersey Mountainman in the GOP Gubernatorial Primary if he decided to test the waters.

JAMESTOWN ASSOCIATES

The whole Jason Miller thing is weird. Still, at the end of the day, the New Jersey-based political shop played a key role in Trump’s triumph and have come a looooong way from when establishment Republicans attempted to black ball them for working for Tea Party challengers.

CHRIS RUSSELL

One of New Jersey’s leading political consultants, Russell spearheaded Tom MacArthur’s CD3 victory and, in 2017, he’ll take a crack at statewide Republican politics as lead consultant for the Ciattarelli GOP primary campaign. It’s a big stage for his growing stable of talented operatives.

BILL SPADEA

New Jersey’s leading conservative voice on the radio, Spadea played central roles in this year’s #nobookdeal and #nogastax battles. I’m a little biased since he cross-posts here and I regularly appear on his programs, true, but even ardent Spadea-haters (mainly concentrated in the State House) would concede he’s well-positioned to take a fresh crack at elected office down the road (unless or until a bigger market picks him up).

JESSE KURTZ

The only elected GOP councilman in Atlantic City, Kurtz continues to adeptly play the role of Anthony Kennedy for warring Democrat factions.

AMY GATTO

The 30-something former mayor (now Atlantic County freeholder) is a likely future Assemblywoman. 2017 might be a little soon but hey, as Chris Christie learned the hard way, in politics at least, the opportunity makes the man and not the other way around.

LEONARD LANCE

Once considered to be the holder of a competitive seat, Lance took NJ-07 off the DCCC’s map in 2016 and trounced Peter Jacob, a youngster who spent a good portion of the election blaming this website for his troubles. Look inward, young man….

BILL CORTESE

The former Christie campaign figure is a potential up-in-coming force in state politics after masterminding the media campaign in opposition to N.J. casino expansion.

RODNEY FRELINGHUYSEN

Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen is (finally) the chairman-in-waiting for the super-powerful House Appropriations Committee. If the Trump Administration wants to get big budget-related things done on Capitol Hill? Rodney will need to sign off.

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Losers

CHRIS CHRISTIE

This one should be obvious enough, folks, but here’s an anecdote that puts a fine point on the whole affair.

“Mr. Christie still believes he has a political future nationally,” reported the NY Times in a recent write-up about the Governor, unflatteringly titled ‘Abandoned.’ “He wants to write a book and his friends have been telling people in New Jersey that the governor expects Mr. Trump to eventually come around to him. According to their scenario, the White House management team of Jared Kushner, Stephen K. Bannon and Reince Priebus will be a disaster and Mr. Christie will be tapped as the skilled manager, like David Gergen, the former aide to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan who swooped in to steady Bill Clinton’s administration after a raucous first year.”

The Governor’s Office is apparently even shadowing its boss with a camera crew… to create a documentary? They presumably won’t interview the Bridgegate juror who believed the Governor should’ve been on trial.

Delusional? Eh. Maybe. Americans love a second act (sorry to disagree with you, Mr. Fitzgerald), but when you’re counting on a fourth act? There’s no positive way to spin your position. Hope isn’t a plan. Christie’s record does tend to provide at least some explanation for his refusal to quit the great game. The Mendham resident already rose from the ranks of the political dead twice, after losing a 1990s Assembly bid and again when he endorsed Trump early. In between, he went from being Nancy Reagan’s anointed pick for president in 2011 to a GOP discount stock just five years later. Right now, Governor Christie’s fate (by the admission of those NYT sources) lies in the hands of people he and his immediate circle hope will fail. That’s as shitty a situation as they come.

STEVE SWEENEY

Ask anyone who’s read Robert Caro’s classic Lyndon Johnson series: a Senate President’s worth is his ability to get stuff done. Steve Sweeney failed badly in 2016 by that barometer (or any other). He screwed up the pension amendment and the casino referendum to boot, insulting the NJEA in the process and, ultimately, dooming his own much-discussed run for governor in 2017.

STEVEN FULOP

Yeah….

LEGISLATORS WHO VOTED FOR THE GAS TAX

It’s a list that’s too long to post.

What can I say that we haven’t written 1,500-times here at Save Jersey? Or argued on NJ 101.5? You folks ARE the problem. The one thing everyone, liberal or conservative, can agree upon is that transportation should be a top government priority. When you live in the nation’s most taxed state per capita and still can’t afford road maintenance without raising taxes again? You’re doing it wrong. Shame! A pox on all your houses.

Republican supporters in particular screwed the pooch on this one, robbing themselves of a major 2017 campaign issue and letting vulnerable Democrats in places like LD1, LD2, etc., vote no with impunity.

SCOTT GARRETT

Scott Garrett’s lengthy career in N.J. politics — including 13 years in Congress – came to an end in November when changing district demographics, a well-heeled opponent and yes, if we’re being honest, a less-than-stellar campaign brought the notoriously independent federal legislator to his proverbial knees. He was recently spotted at Trump Tower for a meeting (not with Trump himself) but there’s no indication yet that he’s in line for a promotion. Garrett would likely have trouble attempting to retake his seat, too, given the damage he took and the long line of potential successors licking their chops.

ALEX BLANCO

The Passaic Mayor continued a dubious tradition of North Jersey Democrat powerbrokers ending their careers with corruption pleas.

Vin Gopal (Photo via Facebook/Credit: Art Gallagher/MMM)

VIN GOPAL

Politicker NJ always endeavors to see the youthful Monmouth County Democrat Chairman’s glass as half-full but hey, this is a 2016 winner/loser list, not a “how this person’s 5-10 year plan looks” list. And when he had a chance with plenty of bucks to break back into county government and humble the GOP organization of Sheriff Shaun Golden, the millennial Gopal’s own organization fell far short of its goal. Even some Republicans on the inside were surprised by how well they did given the aggravation of winning as a GOP’er in high turnout presidential cycles. That’s a fail by any objective measure given the spending disparity.

MAGGIE MORAN & MATT DOHERTY

See Vin’s section above. The Clinton-esque Democrat power couple (Maggie as the state-wide powerbroker connection, and Matt as the freeholder candidate) threw the kitchen sink at their Monmouth GOP opponents and didn’t really come close to making a dent. It was a Clinton-esque-sized waste of donor resources.

ALAN ROSENTHAL

We’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but the late Rutgers Professor’s absolutely idiotic 2011 redistricting map – explicitly designed to protect “continuity of representation (incumbents) – means that our representatives don’t need to fear our wrath when things like the gas tax are on the table. He did more harm to our state than the last several governors combined. 2016 might’ve been the clearest illustration yet of the extent to which the harm can (and will) go.

GUN CONTROL ACTIVISTS

Donald Trump’s ascension, GOP Senate control and what will likely be a reinforced pro-2A majority on the U.S. Supreme Court = decent odds for the President-elect’s promise of progress on national concealed carry legislation. Can’t wait to hear Loretta Weinberg & Co. squeal!

NJEA

They’re still the big dog on the block. However, Steve Sweeney’s defiance (mentioned/linked above) suggests this Death Star of a public employee union isn’t indestructible.

BOB YUDIN

Long-time BCRO Chairman was ousted from power in 2016.

LD38 DEMOCRATS

They took a bold stand in 2016 by supporting the gas tax; they’re the only swing-district Dems to do so. Eustace and Lagana aren’t Bob Gordon and tend to win by narrow margins; let’s see if Republicans recruit someone to exploit this cocky misstep.

JIM WHELAN

“Old” and “tired” are words frequently used by both sides when describing Atlantic County’s equivalent to Ed Rendell (the Democrat mayor popular because he’s the one who didn’t go to jail). He failed to emerge as a strong force in the casino fight (remember that picture of him having lunch with George Norcross?). The question now: will he retire? Possible. If not, Republicans may never have a better chance to take him down than with Asm. Chris Brown in 2017.

NJGOP

What NJGOP? The State Party barely exists these days in any meaningful form, by design, since it was reconstructed solely to serve a politician (Chris Christie) who’s now on political life support. It’s only meaningful state-wide impact in 2016 was sending out mailers in support of an unpopular casino referendum that ultimately went down in flames. That money could’ve been put to much better use elsewhere. #SHAME

JEFF TITTEL AND N.J. GREEN-TYPES

This guy runs the Sierra Club in New Jersey. Take one look at the Donald’s picks for the Department of Justice, EPA, Energy, etc., and tell me that he (and people who share his green beliefs in New Jersey) are going to have a good year…?

NEW JERSEY TAXPAYERS

Every. Damn. Day.

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Undecided

BILL BARONI and BRIDGET KELLY

How does a federal criminal conviction NOT land someone on the loser list???

Fair point. If this was the 2015 list, there would be no question about where these two former senior Christie World figures belonged. But the appeals process might drag on for another full year (or more), and criminal attorneys in-the-know think they have a half-decent case for a complicated jury-instruction related issue which would require a blog post of its own to explain. What I can say? These two Bridgegate co-conspirators might have a better chance at achieving media redemption (and media interviews, and book deals) in 2017 than their former boss, Chris Christie. Go figure!

BILL PALATUCCI

Chris Christie’s feared right-hand man and Republican national committeeman returned to the private sector this fall after the Governor got unceremoniously bounced from Trump’s transition circle. “Pal” (as he’s known around the state) is still a shrewd mover-and-shaker with many national ties and a long history in state politics. He was around and involved before Christie; will he continued to play a central role in New Jersey’s 2017 and beyond? I wouldn’t bet against him, though it’s hard to imagine him wielding quite the same level of influence unless the Governor somehow recovers and reasserts himself.

Bill Baroni

DECLAN O’SCANLON AND AMY HANDLIN

LD13 running mates at war over Joe Kyrillos’s seat. One will win big; the other might be finished for good.

BOB MENENDEZ

See above. Menendez could escape justice (or achieve it, depending on your POV) in 2017 if the U.S. Supreme Court gives him the Bob McDonnell treatment and tosses his indictment. If.

CORY BOOKER

Senator Cory “Snowflake” Booker (D-Twitter) didn’t get Hillary Clinton’s Veep position — one for which he aggressively campaigned — but ended the year arguably better off for it given the shipwreck that her campaign turned out to be. Is he a real player for 2020? Or just another ‘pretty face’ in the minority caucus that’s almost certain to lose more Senate seats in 2018? Stay tuned…

DONALD NORCROSS

Was the short-circuited Democrat shadow primary for governor part of a deal? Possibly to put the District #1 Congressman and brother of New Jersey’s leading political boss in the Senate should Bob Menendez lose his upcoming fall 2017 (?) corruption trial? The mind races.

JOE PISCOPO

The former SNL star is perhaps the one candidate not named Kim or Jack that’s most likely to shake up the 2017 governor’s race. Why? Some name recognition AND the thing he’s got that neither Kim nor Jack can say: a record of having stood by the President-elect before November 8th. Now we’ll wait and see if he pulls the trigger. Sources placed him at the AC GOP Christmas Party on 12/28. He’s making the rounds….

THE BERGEN GOP

The BCRO crew was objectively going nowhere (fast) under the tenure of its former chairman, Bob Yudin, who is spending his political retirement lobbing bombs at his successor, Paul DiGaetano. I’ll leave it up to our readership whether the criticism is on point or sour grapes. What matters: the change of guard wasn’t enough to rescue the party from ugly losses at the county-wide and LD36 local level in November. They’re presently shut-out of county offices for the first time in many years. Republicans cannot win statewide elections by getting blown out in New Jersey’s most populous county. Election 2017 is a make-or-break for the new regime since this is the first full cycle for which it’ll have full ownership of the results.

JACK CIATTARELLI

He’s running behind Kim Guadagno, a Lieutenant Governor that has forged relationships in certain red quarters of the state where the Somerset Assemblyman is an unknown quantity. That being said, the 2017 GOP hopeful has assembled a crack campaign team and could benefit from running hard at the LG’s long-standing albeit reluctant affiliation with the increasingly reviled Christie.

Locking up support in Somerset and Burlington County will be key to any viable spring run.

SALEM COUNTY GOP

After a split decision in 2016, the deep South Jersey county party still has 6-1 control of the freeholder board but not without a good deal of uncertainty: long-time GOP board leader Julie Acton is resigning and voters decided to shrink the board from 7 to 5 for the next election.

KIM GUADAGNO

2016’s biggest question mark on this list?

Chris Christie’s #2 enters 2017 as a narrow favorite for the NJ GOP gubernatorial nomination; she also made waves (and raised eyebrows) for breaking with her boss on this fall’s ballot question #2 and the infamous ‘book deal.’ But she’s still the top lieutenant for America’s least popular governor (his approval rating is sub-20%), a cross which will be hard to hand-off/shake/bear running against a high-dollar Democrat opponent who will undoubtedly spend millions to make it stick.

The LG’s fate is TBD, Save Jerseyans.

GEORGE GILMORE

Keep a very close eye on that tax investigation story.

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