With a Democratic governor in the Statehouse, It could be a banner year for Jersey Democrats hoping to sweep Republicans out of their long held congressional seats. Last week, our Chief Political Correspondent asked the State Republican Party chair about his strategy in the upcoming mid-terms. Now, it’s State Democratic Party Chair John Currie’s turn to sit down with Michael Aron.
Aron: Mr. Chairman, as you know, there are five Republican congressional seats in New Jersey. How many of those do you think you can flip in November?
Currie: Well, Michael, I hope we flip them all. I tell you, Michael, we have recruited the best crop of challengers than we’ve had in decades. They’re all fundraising well. They’re all very qualified. So, I know it’s going to be tough, but I’m looking to sweep New Jersey.
Aron: Let me play a little game with you. Let’s take what I would handicap as the likeliest pick-up, and run down to the least likely pick-up. Likeliest pick-up: Jeff Van Drew over Seth Grossman in district two. Next most likely: Mikie Sherrill succeeding Rodney Frelinghuysen over Jay Webber. Next, Tom Malinowski upending Leonard Lance. Starting now to get to the least likely: Andy Kim upsetting Tom MacArthur. And, least likely, Josh Welle beating Chris Smith. What do you think about my order?
Currie: I think your order is correct. I would not count Kim out against MacArthur. I know MacArthur has the ability to put a lot of his own funds in. As you know, they’re calling that a toss-up race at this point. But, it’s too much to go. But, I think we have a chance, particularly if we get out the vote that we hope to win our blue wave.
Aron: Former President Obama endorsed about 30 candidates around the country. Two in New Jersey — Tom Malinowski against Leonard Lance and Andy Kim against Tom MacArthur. Some of us were surprised that he didn’t endorse Mikie Sherrill.
Currie: It’s my understanding that President Obama plans to endorse more candidates. I have to say, I was disappointed. But I do understand both of those gentlemen worked in the Obama administration, and of course he knows them personally. But, there’s no one better-qualified to represent the 11th District than Mikie Sherrill.
Aron: Let me talk to you a little bit about state politics. Your party, despite having all of the power positions, is divided. There is the Murphy faction; there is the Sweeney faction. How do you, as state chairman, navigate that?
Currie: Well, you know, Michael, I don’t necessarily see it that way. You know, they’re all — the speaker, the Senate president — they’re wonderful gentlemen. And, I don’t see us being divided. I see us as having some differences. We all have differences; I respect that. It’s just what the budget process. And I just encourage them all — come to a reasonable compromise, and let’s do what’s best for the citizens of New Jersey.
Aron: You’re not saying that Murphy and Sweeney aren’t at least rivals, if not enemies. Are you?
Currie: Well …
Aron: Is it rivals or enemies?
Currie: Well, maybe they are rivals. I don’t think they’re enemies.
Aron: The Middlesex County chairman, who sides with South Jersey Democrats — Kevin McCabe — was critical of you, saying that when Murphy, and Sweeney and Coughlin were at odds over the budget, that you weighed in on behalf of Murphy. True? Untrue?
Currie: Well, I make no bones about it. Our state party — they way we were set up; the way I’ve come up in it, nearly 35 years — it’s always been the governor’s party when the governor is in control. I make no bones about it. I believe in Phil Murphy. I believe in his vision, and I make no bones that I’m a supporter of Phil Murphy. I have absolutely nothing against Senate President Steve Sweeney or Speaker Coughlin. I think they’re both fine gentlemen.
Aron: We’re starting to see more U.S. senate race ads on TV, particularly from the Hugin camp. Much more than from the Menendez camp, at least so far. What’s the strategy on the Menendez side? When are they going to start matching Hugin on television?
Currie: I will commit to you that you will start to see some Menendez ads within the next two weeks. Senator Menendez is doing very very well in New Jersey. I’m confident that we are going to re-elect him. We’re going to get out to vote. He’s the best person for New Jersey. His opponent would just be a rubber stamp for Donald Trump.
Aron: Speaking of Trump, what role do you see him playing in the election in November? In terms of the New Jersey electorate?
Currie: Well, if he’s looking at his polling numbers in New Jersey, I would be surprised if many candidates would invite him in. I know MacArthur is the only one that supported him in the past. But, I don’t see how it would help any candidate in any district.
Aron: The stock market is good; the economy is good. He hasn’t started a war.
Currie: Not yet.
Aron: You could say that we have piece and prosperity under Donald Trump. You could say.
Currie: Donald Trump is a divider, you know. Donald Trump is not for healthcare for Americans. He’s done nothing for infrastructure in New Jersey. Look at what he’s done with the tunnel. Listen, he’s from New York. He should want that tunnel built. It should have been built under Chris Christie. And, you know, he’s been a stumbling block with that. I don’t think New Jersey wants anyone connected to Donald Trump.
Aron: Democratic State Chairman John Currie, thanks so much.
Currie: My pleasure.