On the day of Gov. Chris Christie’s State of the State Address, the governor’s office released a big ticket punch list of accomplishments, and it’s hard not to see them and ponder the presence of Democratic Party bosses looming substantially behind the pillars of success.
That dynamic may go some way in explaining why the Democratic Party can’t summon a 2013 consensus candidate to challenge this sitting governor, who put himself on good tactical footing even before Hurricane Sandy.
Christie’s self-proclaimed victories include: pension and benefits reform, teacher tenure reform, higher education overhaul, and dedication to Atlantic City revitalization.
To varying degrees, those items go right into the happy wheelhouse of South Jersey Democratic Leader George Norcross III and Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo/North Ward Leader Steve Adubato, that conglomeration of north-south core pieces that cohered to take charge of the Democratic Party-controlled legislature.
“He’s threading the needle,” state Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-40), Cedar Grove, said of Christie. “He’s swift boating – surgically. He’s taking away the muscle and bone of the Democratic Party by finding commonality within his initiatives. They have no place to go but to work with him. He is the most brilliant tactical politician we have seen in the governor’s office in our lifetime.”
But Christie’s achievements don’t cover the gambit of constituent concern. His punch list includes the boast that he’s “reining in property taxes,” yet it’s only one more item in the mix, not front-end loaded as the most important voter concern, as polls indicate is the case.
Democrats are aware of the opening in Christie’s armor – but so far they have proved ineffective at organization, a situation worsened for Christie opponents by his political maneuvering of the big important Democratic Party organizations.
“The big names that have been floated out there as possible opponents, including (Newark Mayor Cory) Booker and (Senate Presidnet Steve) Sweeney were somewhat neutralized all along,” said Monmouth University Pollster and Political Scientist Patrick Murray. “Certainly he has accomplishments he can point to, but the question is whether those are the things the public wants done. He has done a lot of things, but he certainly hasn’t tackled big ticket items, like property tax reform. That’s the area where the senate president can make a case.
“The question,” Murray added, ” is how good are they at summoning a unified message.”
It’s tough for Democrats when at least two prime building blocks are divided.
“He’s neutralized some of the vocal opposition in Democratic strongholds: unions and urban educators,” said Murray. “In fact, Christie has divided the education community between urban and suburban.”
So far, state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-18), a maverick senator who fell out of favor with leaders in the midst of Christie’s and Sweeney’s public pension and benefits overhaul, is the only announced candidate for governor.
So far, more than threatening the incumbent Republican governor, she has had more trouble convincing poobahs in her own party that she has merit as a candidate.
“The Democrats may make a charge against him, but you rely on organizations and constituent groups to oppose and many of them do not do that as vociferously as they may have because Christie has handed them what they want in packages here and there,” Murray said.
Then place on top of that the governor’s heralded response to Hurricane Sandy.