After watching what my good friend, Joe Kyrillos went through in Campaign 2012, I have to wonder whether any New Jersey Republican will ever win a U.S. Senate seat. Furthermore, I ask myself why any New Jersey Republican would even try.
I was with Joe the day he announced his candidacy at a reception hall in Monmouth County. New Jersey is one of America’s bluest states, yet Joe was undaunted by the challenge.
He recognized from the outset the Democratic registration and financial advantages that have prevented any Republican from winning a U.S. Senate election since Clifford Case was reelected in 1972. Yet Joe vowed that he would give the campaign his very best effort, regardless of how difficult the circumstances may be. If Al Smith and Hubert Humphrey were the Happy Warriors of American politics, Joe Kyrillos is the Optimistic Warrior, less effusive than Smith and Humphrey yet exuding the same good will. He possesses an honest, yet non-arrogant optimism that has been vital to his continued success as a State Senator from Monmouth County.
At the onset of his campaign against incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, it was clear that Joe would face an uphill fight. There was at that time the possibility that Joe’s good friend, Governor Chris Christie would be on the national ticket. This certainly would have been a positive factor on Joe’s behalf. Yet this did not happen. And Joe found himself continuously hampered by negative circumstances that were not of his making.
First, there was the matter of Mitt Romney himself. The GOP presidential nominee, the man at the top of the GOP ticket, was a virtual total failure in the Garden State. New Jersey was one of the few states in the nation where Mitt Romney in 2012 performed less well than John McCain in 2008. This had a negative impact on down ballot GOP candidates all over the state. Joe was obviously affected by this as well.
Yet it was Hurricane Sandy that had the most severe negative political impact on the Kyrillos candidacy. Joe’s base is in Monmouth and Ocean County, and the hurricane prevented the voters in these two counties from seeing the Kyrillos television commercials in the climactic last week of the campaign. The Obama visit and the accompanying favorable publicity further widened the gap between the incumbent President and Romney. All this transformed an uphill fight for Joe into an Impossible Dream.
Yet Joe soldiered on bravely. He raised approximately five million dollars, and his commercials were well-crafted by his consultant, Larry Weitzner of Jamestown Associates. He demonstrated competency on the issues in the debates, and he pursued a most active campaign schedule. I honestly do not see what else Joe could have done to enhance his prospects.
I do not know if Joe Kyrillos will seek reelection to the New Jersey State Senate. Throughout his decades of legislative service, Senator Kyrillos has been a leader in the New Jersey Senate on a panoply of issues, particularly economic development. It would be a loss to the citizenry of New Jersey if Joe left the Senate at the end of his current term in January, 2014.
Yet I would not blame Joe if he left active politics after such a frustrating campaign as Election 2012. He has a wonderful wife in Susan and two beautiful children. I have no doubt that he would be a vital asset to any business that hired him. Yet my hope is that he will seek reelection – and win.
Joe Kyrillos is my friend. I am most proud of that. If he sought statewide office in the future, I would again enthusiastically support him.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight federally recognized Indian nations. Under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, he served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.