POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Following election, NJ becomes ‘trifecta’ state

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Republican Kim Guadagno’s tumultuous campaign for governor ended in a crushing loss. Outspent three-to-one, and trailing throughout by double digits in the polls, the lieutenant governor could not evade her eight-year connection to catastrophically unpopular Gov. Chris Christie. Even a last minute hard right turn to Trump-style topics and tactics failed.

“We left no stone unturned, and we would not have done anything differently,” said Guadagno.

Guadagno lost by 13 points, but, a bit stubbornly, refused to blame her boss.

When asked about how much of an effect her relationship to Christie had she said, “None. You know what? I ran my own campaign.”

Her running mate, Carlos Rendo, spoke more freely about the political reverberations rocking New Jersey’s Republican party and resonating all the way down the ballot. Many have called the election a backlash against Chris Christie and Donald Trump.

“Well, we knew we were up against all odds, we were out-numbered in registrations, we were up against the Christie effect and we knew that from the get-go,” said Rendo.

“I think right now it is a rejection of the president and the politics there. Certainly, there are other factors that go into play with any race. If you look at the lieutenant governor, I think she ran a strong race. It was underfunded and it what was a traditionally blue state, anyway,” said Republican strategist Michael DuHaime, who advised Christie on his two previous elections.

“This is part of a national mood here in New Jersey, so even while we had a record low turnout for the governor’s race, in competitive races there was a significant enthusiasm gap that benefited Democrats,” said Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

New Jersey will now be one of eight so-called “trifecta” states, where Democrats control both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office — Republicans have 26. But New Jersey Democrats also boosted their legislative margins winning two seats formerly held by Republicans Jack Ciattarelli and Chris Brown. That will give them a 28-seat majority in the Assembly, a breakdown of 54 to 26 respectively. Democrats also gained a Senate seat, raising that majority to 10 after Democrat Vin Gopal beat long time Republican Jennifer Beck in the 11th District. That brings the split in the Senate to 25 to 15.

“When you have an avalanche of money, when you’re outspent somewhere, five-, seven-to-one, it’s almost brainwash money. If you had an even playing field here, Jen Beck would still be a senator and Republicans may control the Legislature if they had an even playing field of money,” said Republican Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon.

The Legislature’s most expensive race, costing a combined $20 million, pitted incumbent Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney against an NJEA funded Republican opponent. Sweeney won by 18 points and remains angry at the teachers’ union officials.

“This was personal, it was a vendetta and they wanted to teach a lesson. They wanted to show the entire state of New Jersey that they control New Jersey, and if you cross them this is what you’re going to get. I can tell you right now, I will stand for the taxpayers of this state every single day against million dollar lobbyists,” said Sweeney.

Democrats won major mayoral races. Steve Fulop will serve a second term in Jersey City, and in Atlantic City Council President Frank Gilliam beat Republican incumbent Don Guardian. But again this election defied the norm that all politics is local.

“This is about national issues. And if this mood prevails, going into the 2018 midterms, there are a number of Republican Congressmen here in New Jersey who should be extremely nervous,” said Murray.

New Jersey voters also approved two ballot questions. One approved borrowing $125 million to improve libraries. The other says any money the state wins in environmental lawsuits must be spent to repair and improve the environment.