June 6th isn’t really about November (and other pre-#njprimary observations)

Save Jersey won’t be issuing a formal endorsement in next week’s Republican gubernatorial primary.

Regular readers can already guess the reason why (besides the fact that we ordinarily don’t). In my experience, campaign endorsements solidify predetermined positions and prejudices to the extent they matter at all. The “mattering” part is questionable. Can you remember the last endorsement that changed YOUR mind?

Neither can I.

Most voters don’t want to be told what to do, least of all notoriously independent-minded Republican voters. You want me to ply my experience, and pay attention to what you don’t have the time (or stomach) to absorb, and give you a professional, honest, unforgiving summary of the relevant information so that you can make up your own mind.

The better better path to trod then, in my opinion, is to share some brutally-honest observations as we prepare to transition from the primary to the general election. Here are five biggies:

(1) The clear front runner isn’t running as a conservative Republican. 

Straight talk time:

Kim Guadagno is a likable, competent person. She works hard. She also doesn’t deserve the blame for all of Chris Christie’s political malpractice in recent years. I’m not just saying that… it’s the truth. Most rank and file New Jersey Republicans (who are ‘involved’) like her because she’s perceived to be the “good cop” to Christie’s bad cop when it comes to the larger state GOP family. “Mom was there to hug us when Dad was being an a-hole.”

But this spring, by choice, she’s taken a hard left turn and embraced cap-and-trade, abortion “rights,” refused to commit to supporting Obamacare’s repeal, bizarrely insisted (twice) that global warming caused Hurricane Sandy, and pitched a redistributionist tax hybrid plan (the “circuit breaker”) which, unintentionally, will more than likely drive property taxes higher when local officials raise levies to meet the new subsidy — as I’ve said again and again, you’d be hard pressed to find something subsidized by the government which does not get more expensive because of it.

Guadagno did express a receptive attitude to concealed carry (she’s a former sheriff) and pledged to never, ever raise taxes. So that’s something.

Do these positions cumulatively make her a ‘RINO’? An inferior choice to Phil Murphy? Or a “bad” Republican?

That’s not really the question.

The question: Is Kim Guadagno running for my support this spring?

The answer is NO, not really. She and her team understandably won’t say this out loud because it’s in bad taste, but they sincerely believe the primary is in the bag (their polling predicts a comfortable double-digit win over her nearest competitor, Jack Ciattarelli), so they’re doing what Republicans typically do in blue states and attempt to conquer “the center” ahead of the November contest.

More evidence: We offered the Lieutenant Governor’s campaign an opportunity to sit down and explain her positions to Save Jersey‘s second-to-none in size online audience of New Jersey-based conservative primary voters; we were close (I hoped) to working something out before the unexpected passing of her mother. We’ll see what happens. If she doesn’t interview with Save JerseyThat’s a first for this site as we enter our 10th (!) year of operation. Even Chris Christie sat down and answered our questions when he faced a competitive primary back in 2009. We’ve never been told by a N.J. Republican candidate, running from dog catcher, U.S. Senator, or anything in between, that they can’t make time for a 10-to-15 minute conversation with our site’s ever-expanding and influential audience.

I’ll put it a different way….

McDonald’s added an all-day breakfast menu because it WANTS my business.

Apple TV is giving up and incorporating Amazon Prime’s app because it WANTS my business.

How can I, in good conscience, tell New Jersey conservatives to get fired up to vote for a candidate who hasn’t prioritized earning their votes?

I’m a conservative first and a Republican second. I vote for the party that I believe is a vehicle for the advancement of my worldview. I can’t endorse a strategy that cedes new ground to the bad guys. I’ve never seen it work. If it does this time? Bully for the good guys! Seriously. But color me skeptical for now.

Let’s hope something changes, and soon, because I’d like to do more than vote against someone (Phil Murphy) this fall. It’d be really nice! June 7th is a new day.

(2) The two most “conservative” campaigns? Ciattarelli’s and Singh’s. 

Note that I said “campaigns,” not candidates. I’ve been around too long to attempt to judge politicians’ souls/hearts/minds barring a technological breakthrough that would allow me to do so accurately. I can only pass judgment on what I hear and see. 

It’s a little bit harder to grade Hirsh Singh of Atlantic City than most of his rivals because (and many of you would count this as an attribute) Mr. Singh isn’t a career politician. He doesn’t have a history of votes or public positions to dissect. He doesn’t have a “track record.” But he’s been saying all of the right things in recent weeks for whatever that’s worth to you, backing Chris Christie’s politically-wise “every child is worth the same” school funding reform approach and dumping $300,000 into a media campaign which, had it been managed better from Day #1, might’ve made a bigger impact in this spring’s contest. He’s an excellent communicator and a fresh face for a state party that’s generally old, white and stale at the senior level. Here’s hoping he sticks around. Maybe a run for legislature in LD2 is in order? Or CD2 for that matter? 

Asm. Jack Ciattarelli (R-16), a CPA and businessman who gave up his Assembly seat to run for governor, is the most competitive with Guadagno in the polls; if you can look past his unambiguously liberal positions on the big “social issues” (he’s pro-abortion and pro-euthanasia),  he’s clearly the Republican candidate with the best command of New Jersey’s fiscal crisis and the long-term reforms required to right the ship. My recap of the first GOP debate said it all. He never knocked Guadagno out but he won both contests on “the points.” Unfortunately for Jack, elections aren’t won “on the points” but on perception; what’s more, fighting for name recognition against an opponent who’s been elected twice state-wide (see my maps if you missed’em) is no easy task. Don’t underestimate the steepness of that hill. Could he upset Guadagno? Yes.

Would I be surprised? Also yes. Just never say never ’cause primaries are notoriously difficult to poll (ask Virginia’s Eric Cantor).

Critics say he should’ve spent more time “introducing” himself before unloading on the LG. That might be premature criticism before we see how close he comes on Tuesday. 

Steven Rogers, a Nutley commissioner, is of the Trumpian populist mold (he advised the Trump campaign). I interviewed him, and liked him, but he’s been unable to assemble a grassroots campaign capable of overcoming his better financed opponents. Some of his positions — like drug testing all legislators supportive of decriminalizing marijuana — are admittedly a little disconcerting albeit thoroughly amusing. What I will say? The man exudes integrity and honesty. You believe that he believes what he’s telling you… a rare thing!

And, last but not least, there’s Joe Rullo of Ocean County. What can I say? If the NJGOP is going to get a much-needed shake-up this spring, then I want to preemptively nominate Joe to run the new social media operation (provided a First Amendment lawyer is on hand to make sure things don’t get too nuts). 

(3) This spring’s fight is REALLY about control of the N.J. GOP. 

You guys and gals know me. I’m a fighter.

I’m also a realist. More likely than not, given everything that’s happened with Chris Christie in recent years, the backlash in certain quarters against Donald Trump AND New Jersey’s blue-tilt in state-wide contests? The Democrat nominee will be favored to win in November. Probably heavily so. An early may poll showed Guadagno trailing Murphy by 25-points and yes, he’s at 50%.

We’re not giving up yet! But we are acknowledging that this year’s battle is as much about the future of a Republican/conservative resistance in the Garden State than selecting the next governor. Things were very different back in 2009; Christie ran as the mainstream “Bush” conservative versus Steven Lonegan, the movement RINO hunter. This cycle? Guadagno and Ciattarelli are both running to the Left of those guys, and Kim by a lot.

Christie made the better primary pitch, and started off strong, but ended up gutting the state party and treating it more like a personal ATM.

Who would do a better job of rebuilding the state party?

Whose circle of operatives provides the NJGOP with a better farm team for future success?

Would you rather have Bill Layton or George Gilmore serve as the party’s leading behind-the-scenes operator?

Jack put out a “contract” with GOP voters. The Guadagno camp is playing things closer to the vest but she’s been to South Jersey a lot and her antagonism with unpopular Christie consigliere and NJGOP national committeeman Bill Palatucci is well-known.

I could (and might still) do a comparative post on this topic by itself since it’s so important. As ever, we encourage you to make up your own mind.

(4) On the messaging front? Most of the campaigns are ignoring major issues.

Even yours truly can’t save the world (or a state for starters) in one post. Click here for my short list.

(5) If she’s going to pull this out in November? Guadagno needs to scrap her lame “Believe” branding for an ENOUGH! populist campaign. 

Here’s a little more tough love for the LG because yes, we love her, but she’s also the front runner and therefore deserves the extra layer of scrutiny:

Despite her notable outward attempts over the past few months to make a break with the unpopular governor whom she has served for almost eight years, Guadagno is curiously repeating Chris Christie’s fatal mistake.

Which mistake? Remember back in 2013, when Christie won reelection by driving up his percentage at the expense of helping his party, and lectured the political world over how, in his opinion, “The GOP needs to win elections, not arguments“?

How well did that work out?

Christie’s friendless, narrow victory, fueled by Faustian deals with Democrat bosses and pivots away from the tough stances that made him famous early in term #1, bought him… endless investigations and eventual national political death. Much like it did for Richard Nixon in 1972.

I’m not accusing the LG of being selfish. I am accusing her of attempting to use Chris Christie’s 2013 win as a model for victory when she should be pulling more lessons from 2009, when she and her boss threw elbows, ran as unapologetic conservatives, and provided a strong contrast to the failed, far-left Trenton establishment.

Take her RGGI/Sandy comments. Chris Christie didn’t become Governor by sucking up to yuppies in Hoboken and Asbury Park who think carbon dioxide and non-organic groceries are a bigger threat to New Jersey families than job losses and Islamic extremists. Nope! He won by galvanizing working class and middle class voters in Ocean, Middlesex, Gloucester and Bergen counties; he got them in the game by touching third rails, like when he skipped the NJEA convention and told the union leadership to pound sand.

Better” is a loser. Imagine this branding instead (an idea adapted from a friend’s): an advertisement featuring a grainy image of Christie, Corzine and Phil Murphy behind her as a fired up, Thatcher-esque LG looks directly into the camera and asks “Are you tired of these guys? Had enough? Me f—–g too, New Jersey. Let’s do this.”

The F-bomb aside? It’d be a killer spot! And would be the best she can do to recapture the lost spirit of 2009 that put her in power in the first place.

I’m a New Jersey Republican, folks. I don’t have all of the answers when it comes to “winning.” I do know what a losing campaign looks like. Murphy isn’t going to be an easy nut to crack. Guadagno will need to work much, much harder to demonstrate, convincingly, that her campaign is a stronger break from the status quo than Murphy’s. The tactics need to evolve to meet the current challenge but, luckily for NJGOP’ers, they have a template for victory in the not-too-distant past if they’re brave enough to use it. Use it! Please. For the love for God…