Observer has obtained a confidential polling memo prepared for Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s campaign. Written by Guadagno’s lead pollster, Adam Geller, the memo is the kind of “all is well” check-in that seems to find its way into reporters’ hands whenever a rival candidate releases something that suggests the race is tightening.
Straightforwardly entitled, “The State of the Gubernatorial Primary,” the memo reads, “With just about eight weeks left until the Republican Primary, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno is VERY strongly positioned to receive the GOP nomination. In fact, every single metric, measurement or event favors Kim over the rest of the field.”
Geller then lists all the ways in which Guadagno is outshining her main Republican rival, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, claiming to have “a strong fundraising advantage,” and leads in endorsements from elected Republicans and contested county party endorsements. Perhaps most significantly, Geller also claims that Guadagno holds “a significant lead in both public polls as well as our own internal polling.”
He ends by addressing the newfound traction that Ciattarelli has been able to generate with better-than-expected performances at several conventions, including wins in Mercer and Union counties.
“For all of their bluster,” Geller writes, “the Ciattarelli campaign is statistically tied NOT with Kim Guadagno (who leads by a mile) but with the rest of the field; Jack is virtually tied with Joseph ‘Rudy’ Rullo, Steven Rogers, and Hirsch Singh.”
Naturally, the Ciattarelli camp doesn’t read the landscape quite the same way.
“After seven-plus years as a statewide elected official, the lieutenant governor is languishing in the mid-20s in public polling for the primary,” Chris Russell, Ciattarelli’s lead strategist, told Observer. “That’s embarrassing. The No. 2 Republican in the state since 2010 and more than 70 percent of New Jersey Republicans are looking for someone else to be our nominee. Those voters want a new message, a new messenger and a new direction, and Jack Ciattarelli is it. His five-point plan and his background as an entrepreneur and businessman are resonating, and we are building momentum every day.”
In a sign that the Guadagno campaign is leaving no charge unanswered, campaign manager Dave Huguenel fired back: “While Jack Ciattarelli barely submitted the necessary number of signatures to get on the ballot and his team is frantically launching desperate, negative attacks against the lieutenant governor daily to try to save his flailing campaign, we feel good about our position in the race. Voters are responding well to Kim Guadagno’s plan to audit Trenton, cut property taxes and end the state house renovation boondoggle.”
A different source inside the Guadagno campaign got into the data weeds a bit.
“Our polling confirms what we’ve seen in public polling thus far: Kim is way ahead in the Republican primary. Jack is stuck at a low 4 percent with very low name ID among Republican primary voters. More alarming for Jack is he unknown with only a 9 percent favorable rating and a 6 percent unfavorable rating. …
“He is even losing his home county of Somerset by double digits. It is going to be hard for him to raise those numbers since he has yet to receive a nickel in public funding and there is less than two months until the primary. Kim on the other hand is much better known among Republicans and is very well liked, with a 3:1 favorable/unfavorable ratio.”
One interesting tidbit that emerged in this trash-talk skirmish is the difference in how the two candidates are discussing November. It’s no secret that the Republicans face long odds of keeping the governor’s mansion. New Jersey seems to grow more deeply blue by the hour; the latest voter statistics kept by the state give Democrats an edge of 800,000 registered voters over Republicans. And with Gov. Chris Christie struggling with low approval ratings, and a tradition of voting against the party of the president in the first year after the White House switches hands—the phenomenon that brought governors Whitman, McGreevey and Christie to Drumthwacket—the environment favors the Democratic nominee, who at this point looks likely to be Phil Murphy.
The Ciattarelli camp gave Observer a statement that almost conceded that difficulty and pointed to the down-ballot races as the reason he ought to be the nominee.
“The other reason we are moving,” Russell said, “is because New Jersey Republicans see that a lesser-known Phil Murphy is crushing the lieutenant governor by 22 points in a hypothetical general election match-up. They are realizing that her nomination could have a devastating impact down-ballot for Republicans.”
That’s an appeal to high-information primary voting Republicans, who know that winning in November would be nice but that it’s imperative to protect the county and legislative offices that only political junkies truly follow.
Contrast that to Guadagno’s take, which at least on its face is focused on winning the big prize in the general. Huguenel told Observer, “We are looking forward to contrasting her record with the Democrat nominee in the general election.”