With two polls released this morning showing Sen. Barack Obama leading Sen. John McCain in the Garden State by between 17 and 23 points, former Gov. Tom Kean acknowledged that winning this state is a long-shot, and that Vice-Presidential Sarah Palin hasn't helped.
"I think one of the problems is there hasn't been much of a campaign in New Jersey, if any. That's always a problem. It's uphill for any Republican to win in New Jersey, and the ones who have won are those who have spent a great deal of time here," he told PolitickerNJ.com from California in a phone interview.
Kean, who governed as a moderate in the 1980s and developed cross-party appeal, was one of McCain's early New Jersey backers. He endorsed him late last year, when most of the GOP establishment – including his son, Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. — was on board with Rudy Giuliani. McCain, Kean said, was the most helpful Senator when he chaired the 9/11 commission – the creation of which McCain often cites as a major policy difference between himself and President Bush.
Kean did accompany McCain on the three public appearances he made in New Jersey this year. While he'd like to see more of McCain here, he understands that, with no chance of winning in New York, it wouldn't make sense to spend his limited campaign cash in that extremely expensive media market to make a play for North Jersey voters.
"I always encourage candidates to spend as much time as they can in New Jersey, because New Jersey responds to that kind of attention. But I understand the media markets. I understand that for every dollar you spend on media in New Jersey, you can get $10 worth of media in some of the other areas," he said. "But I live in New Jersey. I see it at as a competitive state, but only if you happen to campaign there."
When McCain picked Palin as his running mate, New Jersey Republicans argued that the Alaska Governor, who was introduced to the public of the lower 49 states as a corruption-busting reformer in a state with a similarly corruption-plagued political system, would appeal to jaded New Jersey voters.
But Kean said that Palin was more of a trade off. While she's exceedingly popular in other parts of the country, she hasn't helped here.
"I don't know whether it's cultural, political or issue-oriented. She seems to not do well in places like New Jersey, New England and California, and very, very well when it comes to the Midwest in the south," he said. "She probably hurts in New Jersey and helps in other states."
Kean did say that McCain's New Jersey Chairman, State Sen. Bill Baroni (R-Hamilton), has done a good job with the limited resources he has, and felt that McCain was doing well nationally.
"Considering all the things he's been hit with, I think he's doing very well. He's the kind of guy who all his life has come from behind, and I wouldn't count him out this time," said Kean. "He's the last gasp of what you and I would call the greatest generation."