In less than three weeks New Jersey primary voters will narrow the field of candidates vying to replace Gov. Chris Christie. For Republican contenders Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Assemblyman Jack Cittarelli it may be a test of the party’s ability to get out the vote. The executive director of the state Republican Party Pete Sheridan joins NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron.
Aron: Thanks, Mary Alice. Thanks, Pete for coming in. If you were talking to an operative from out of state, how would you describe these candidates who will be debating here tomorrow night?
Sheridan: Great, high-energy folks. Both the lieutenant governor and Assemblyman Ciattarelli have records in Trenton of accomplishment. Both have been local elected officials. From the statewide perspective we’re very excited about our potential nominee.
Aron: What’s the role of the state committee? I assume you’re neutral between the two camps?
Sheridan: We are neutral and just getting the party ready to make sure it’s in as strong a position as possible to help whoever comes out of the primary on June 6.
Aron: The race seems a little tighter than perhaps the Democratic field where Phil Murphy seems to be running far ahead. Would you agree with that assessment?
Sheridan: I would. Recent polls certainly suggest that there’s been some narrowing in the race, which I think is expected. Both candidates have raised substantial amounts of money, mail and television is now underway so it’s a pretty natural tightening of the race.
Aron: Kim Guadagno is largely running on her circuit breaker plan to provide immediate property tax relief. Jack Ciattarelli is running on a more detailed plan, a five-point plan, to remake the economy and impose fiscal discipline and equalize school funding. Do you think Republican voters are voting on the basis of who has the plan they like, or who this person is?
Sheridan: I think it’s probably a combination of them both, but I will tell you the important thing is that both of our candidates are talking about how to make New Jersey more affordable, how to keep some of the fiscal discipline that Gov. Christie has brought to this state moving forward as opposed to the Democratic candidates whose only solution seems to be raising taxes when they’re talking about fixing NJ Transit or fully funding our pension commitments. Their solution seems to be raising taxes.
Aron: Kim Guadagno, you would expect, would have the higher name recognition after seven and a half years as lieutenant governor. Is that the case?
Sheridan: I think it is. The early polling certainly showed that she started off with a very sizeable lead over Assemblyman Ciattarelli and the others in the race but that’s why they run campaigns. I think the assemblyman has moved the needle a little bit.
Aron: You do?
Sheridan: The recent Quinnipiac polling certainly suggests that.
Aron: There’s a sense that with his money and a fairly aggressive campaign Phil Murphy will be the winner of the Democratic primary and a tough competitor in the fall. How do you see him?
Sheridan: I would certainly agree with that assessment. He’s running far above the other Democratic candidates in the primary. Mr. Murphy, Ambassador Murphy, has invested at least $15 million of his own money into this race.
Aron: That’s right.
Sheridan: About $15 million as of this last report and there’s no end in sight to that. But I really do think ultimately the voters of New Jersey, when we get to September, October, November, are going to look for what the candidates are going to do and not the amount of money that they’re willing to spend to get there.
Aron: What’s his vulnerability, Murphy? What’s the knock on him from a Republican point of view?
Sheridan: Certainly he is the same kind of candidate as Jon Corzine and his failed policies, one-term Gov. Corzine. They have the same background. They are going about running for office in the exact same way and they’re following the same progressive playbook that ultimately led to Gov. Corzine’s ouster back in 2009.
Aron: The Murphy camp would say he’s more aggressive, more outgoing, that just because they both came out of Goldman Sachs doesn’t mean that they’re identical candidates.
Sheridan: So, that might be true, but what is in fact true is that they both have run to the special interests to get themselves through the primary, private sector unions, Democratic County committees, by buying their way and buying that support and I expect that to continue through the fall.
Aron: President Trump, a Republican, is in a bit of hot water these days, or at least at the center of a storm of controversy. To what extent is that a drag on a Republican in a general election?
Sheridan: I don’t think it is. I think the voters come November are going to decide they want a candidate that is going to fight for them in Trenton to keep their taxes low, to do something about the property tax problem or if they’re going to go for a candidate that has already promised to raise their taxes.
Aron: Precedent is also working against the Republicans. After eight years of a Republican governor, New Jersey tends to want to switch parties. And coming off a presidential election, New Jersey tends to vote for the opposite party of the person that won the presidential election. You’ve got an unpopular governor in Christie, at least according to the polls. You’ve got a lot working against you. How do you respond to that?
Sheridan: I think the biggest challenge that we have is one that we face every year, which is we are simply out-registered here by 840,000 voters, Democrat to Republican, which is a big disadvantage to come across. But again, I think this comes back to the policies that these candidates are going to lay out and I just don’t think that the people of New Jersey are going to want to go back to the days of Jon Corzine with runaway property taxes, with increases in sales tax and income tax, that’s not what New Jerseyans want.
Aron: Pete Sheridan, thanks very much for sharing your views.
Sheridan: Thanks for having me.
The Republican candidates debate the issues tomorrow at the NJTV Agnes Varis Studio in Newark.