Often in political campaigns, the issues you think will influence the results can come from unexpected places. At a press conference where she was supposed to be talking about taxes, Republican gubernatorial candidate Kim Guadagno found herself drawn into the debate about one of the most divisive national issues of the day.
At a press conference on Tuesday, NJTV News asked Guadagno about a recent Facebook photo in which Republican Assemblyman Parker Space and his wife posed in front of a Confederate flag.
The image was taken outside a Hank Williams Jr. concert, and an image of Williams can be seen in the middle of the flag. It reads, “If the south would’ve won, we would’ve had it made.” The post drew criticism from Space’s opponents and others who thought it insensitive, at least given the controversy over the symbol that recently manifested itself in violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. But in her response to a question about it, Guadagno essentially punted.
NJTV News asked whether context was needed for the image, to which Guadagno responded, “But I want to see it, the Confederate flag. I want to see the picture. My only point to you is that I want to see the picture first. I have some vague understanding of it was at a concert.”
When NJTV News confirmed this, Guadagno continued, “So, it was a concert. So let’s ask Parker Space what he was doing standing in front of the picture and, look, I’ve said it already, it’s offensive if it stands for what it purports to stand for. I haven’t seen it yet.”
Guadagno’s opponent Phil Murphy evidently had seen it and reacted via Twitter.
“This is not complicated: the confederate flag is a symbol of bigotry and divisiveness.” he tweeted, adding later, “I call on @KimGuadagnoNJ to join me in demanding Asm. Space apologize.”
Space, meanwhile, said everyone needs to chill out.
“I represent a forgotten group of people in America: the working class,” he said in a statement. “I am sorry if you don’t understand our sense of humor. … No offense meant, if any of you were truly offended.”
Space may not have meant anything by it, but he was also the only abstention on an Assembly vote that condemned the flag. Guadagno wanted more context but, just a few feet away from her, Assembly Republican leader Jon Bramnick was more forceful in his condemnation.
“I don’t support what the Confederate flag stands for and it’s obviously troublesome but you got to ask Parker what his position is,” said Bramnick. “It’s troublesome to me as somebody who believes in the values that the North fought for and the values that were so important to our society.”
Gov. Chris Christie, who may or may not be an official Guadagno advisor, was asked about it on Wednesday.
“People have the right to be offended by whatever offends them,” Christie said. “And those who engage in the conduct have to be responsible for what they’ve done.”
He added, “It wouldn’t have been something that Mary Pat and I would’ve done.”
The governor’s relatively simple dispatch of the flag question could be instructive for his lieutenant as the campaign moves forward. There’s a time for nuance and a time for being direct. And it doesn’t take a lot to knock a struggling campaign off message.