The stage is set in the race to replace Christie. The major party candidates — Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Kim Guadango — have picked the people who’ll run alongside them for lieutenant governor. Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron is here with insight into what the choices mean. Michael?
Aron: Mary Alice, Phil Murphy selected an insider in Sheila Oliver, the former Assembly speaker. Kim Guadagno selected an outsider in Carlos Rendo, the small town mayor. Joining us now are Democratic strategist, Bill Pascrell, III and Republican strategist Chris Russell. Let’s start with Sheila Oliver. What was your reaction to that pick, Bill?
Pascrell: Phil Murphy had a tough task because he had a lot of talented candidates. Enter Shavonda Sumter, Assemblywoman [Marlene] Caride, Troy Singleton, Tahesha Way, all stars in the party. I think he made a good choice in this realm. I think it’s united Essex County in the Democratic Party, and they deserve to be recognized because they were the county that provided the largest plurality. And, I think it unites the different factions going on.
Aron: Delivered the biggest plurality for Murphy?
Pascrell: In the primary. Also, I give credit to the campaign because both Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Steve Sweeney, who have had issues with Sheila Oliver, have come out and given strong endorsements for it. The party is united around her. I think she will be a deft campaigner and she’s already campaigned statewide. After being the speaker, she knows the Legislature far better than Phil Murphy does at this point. So, I think it was a good pick.
Aron: Chris, what did you think of the pick?
Russell: I think it was a safe play and I agree with Bill. This was more about making sure the party bosses that got things done in the primary were rewarded for that. I think they did that. The interesting thing is this goes to the Republican pick as well. There’s about 100 exits south of anyone on either side. I think that’s an interesting thing, on the Parkway that is.
Aron: You’re talking about Murphy who lives in Monmouth County and Oliver who lives in Essex County?
Russell: I live in Jackson, center of the state. I have to travel a half hour north to find anyone running. There are people in South Jersey who may be bothered by that.
Aron: What do you think about the choice of Carlos Rendo by Kim Guadagno?
Russell: Everything I read about Carlos Rendo, I don’t know him personally, but know a couple of people who are close to him, think very highly of him. Cuban-American, American Dream story, close to Marco Rubio, which is an important factor, so a solid pick. But the lieutenant governor has to start coloring outside the lines more. She can’t just paint by numbers and expect to make a dent. So, we’ll see what he becomes as a candidate. This is a big step up for him. People who know him say he can do it, but the pressure’s on.
Aron: You say he’s close to Marco Rubio. The Guadagno campaign is having trouble raising money, reportedly. It looks like she may have tapped Rendo, so that he may tap Marco Rubio. We asked Rendo about his relations and whether that means money might come this way at Thursday’s news conference:
Rendo: I know Marco is thrilled with my choice and I think we will be reaching out to Marco. We helped him here in New Jersey. We helped Marco in New Jersey and I’m sure Marco will come to New Jersey to help us.
Aron: Bill, what do you think of this selection?
Pascrell: Rendo has a great reputation. He is an in-depth immigration attorney. He’s well-liked in the community. And he’s from Bergen County and that’s a must win county for any Republican running. But I agree with Chris, she’s playing it safe and when you are at this stage in the race…
Aron: How is this playing it safe?
Pascrell: I don’t really think it mixes it up, like do no harm. It’s not really outside the box. It’s not something creative or innovative. He’s never run statewide. He’s a safe pick because he’s a mayor and checks a few boxes she needed checked.
Aron: Such as?
Pascrell: The Republican Party in New Jersey has had issues over the years, for whatever reason, with reaching out to minorities and disaffected communities. I think picking a Cuban-American who has a wonderful story, like the mayor, is a good thing. But I also think that when you’re twenty-something points down — pick the poll, 27, 25 — you need to do something that’s unorthodox. You can’t play it safe.
Aron: Chris Christie said yesterday that a running mate doesn’t matter one wit, do you agree with that?
Russell: Generally speaking, I think he’s right. I think people vote top of the ticket. Presidential level, I don’t think it matters much either, but you might be able to bring a state.
Aron: Can you bring an ethnic group with a running mate in a gubernatorial race?
Russell: For Republicans, to Bill’s point, it opens eyes. So I think Democrats and Hispanics who may say, “OK, I may take a look that I haven’t taken before because she made this pick.” I think in that sense, it opens doors, but I don’t think it lets you walk in the door. That still has to come from the campaign.
Aron: Chris Christie also said your choice in a running mate can only help you. I don’t know who he had in mind there. Interesting that Rubio also won’t endear Kim Guadagno to either Chris Christie, who fought with Rubio during the primary, or to Donald Trump, who belittled Rubio during the primary. I wonder if there was any element of let’s distance ourselves from Chris Christie and Donald Trump and select a Rubio guy. What do you think?
Russell: In terms of the Christie thing, it is what it is. She’s going to want to distance herself. I thought the one interesting thing about Rendo is that he was also not a Trump guy. And she has some base problems. I thought maybe a pick to the Trump base, someone that was aligned with him could have been helpful. She chose to go a different direction. She’s trying to chart her own course. I give her credit for that. I’m not sure if it’s enough to unite a fractious Republican base in the party right now.
Aron: Quickly, somebody said to me this week that this is really a 10- to 12-point race, not a 20- to 27-point race. What do you think?
Pascrell: I agree that this race is going to tighten. I think Phil Murphy is well aware, and he’s not taking it for granted, nor does he expect it to be coordinated. He’s working his tail off. And let’s not forget, Michael, he’s never run for statewide office and two and a half years ago none of us here knew Phil Murphy.
Aron: At least here, we all know who he is. Alright, Bill Pascrell, Chris Russell. Thanks very much.