A POSITIVE WAY FOR FORRESTER TO GO NEGATIVE

Labor Day marks the unofficial kick off of the campaign season and with it comes an increase in activity by the candidates. They become more visible in person and on the air, get more serious about the issues, and increase the attacks on their opponents. This is what’s happening in the New Jersey governor’s race, with one important qualification. Jon Corzine is still talking more about the issues, and in more detail, than Republican Doug Forrester. Forrester needs to change that if he wants to convince voters that he has what it takes to be governor and that New Jersey needs to prevent another Democrat from assuming the state’s top spot.It’s not clear what the Forrester camp will do during the final eight weeks of the campaign. But Tom Wilson, the feisty chair of the state GOP, and a Forrester advisor, has some good ideas about how his party’s gubernatorial and assembly candidates can help themselves this fall. According to Wilson, GOP candidates should take advantage of a detailed database of New Jerseyans’ political attitudes and their interest in specific issues and target folks with messages tailored to those interests. Such an approach could also help Forrester overcome his image as a candidate with a narrow platform who doesn’t seem to appreciate all that New Jerseyans want their state government to do. Now Wilson, who has one of the smartest and sharpest tongues in state politics, does not shy away from negative campaigning. Nor does he believe that his party and its candidates should stop attacking their Democratic opponents this fall. He told Jim Goodman of The Trenton Times, “I don’t know a single person in politics who would not prefer to talk issues and run positive campaigns. Unfortunately, the consumers – that is the voters and the media – don’t want to hear that kind of stuff.” That statement is too cynical for a party leader, even a realist like Wilson, to make in a campaign season. But he is not saying that citizens want to hear only about negatives or that Forrester can win by simply attacking Corzine. After all, both gubernatorial candidates have been embarrassed by well-publicized stories about their business and personal affairs. But Forrester has been hurt more. That’s because he assumed that he would be able to take advantage of the ethical problems of the McGreevey-era Democrats and link Corzine to those problems. With Forrester now burdened by questions about how he made his fortune and the legality of his campaign donations, he is not likely to beat Corzine in a mud-slinging contest. However, he cannot afford to jettison his criticisms of Corzine and Democrats generally because he does need to give voters a reason for changing the party in power. But since he can no longer simply assert his ethical superiority over his opponent, Forrester must provide New Jerseyans with specific reasons for making him their next governor. These can and should be based on matters of policy and government performance. Rather than detract from Forrester’s basic campaign message that the Democrats have abused their power and don’t deserve to control state government, talking about what he will do to improve government operations, programs and the quality of life here can make that message more powerful and his own candidacy more appealing. Here’s a simple, tried and true formula that Forrester can use in his stump speeches and television and radio ads. First, criticize the Democrats for what they have done or not done on a specific issue. Then succinctly state what you and the Republicans will do in that issue area. And, use both points to reinforce the central theme of the need to change who’s in charge in Trenton. Some issues that Forrester can use? There are many, starting with the most obvious -high property taxes. How’s this for ad copy? “Democrats promised to lower your property taxes, but under Democrat rule those taxes increased dramatically for most New Jerseyans. Doug Forrester will cut your property taxes by 30 percent in 3 years. The Democrats who increased your taxes by hundreds of dollars don’t deserve to stay in power. Vote for a positive change. Vote for Doug Forrester for Governor.” That’s an easy one for Forrester. But candidates in both parties have been promising property tax relief for years. Like Corzine has, Forrester needs to talk about other issues that concern New Jerseyans generally and specific groups whose support he and GOP assembly candidates need in order to be competitive this November. Such as the need for more state aid to suburban school districts and municipalities and the school construction fund and the enormous cost overruns incurred under the Democrats’ watch. Then there’s the matter of state homeland security funds that were doled out by the Democrats to towns controlled by politicians from their own party. The growth in the size of state government and the increase in patronage jobs are other good topics for Forrester. So is the ethics issue, especially as it relates to increases in patronage jobs, the costs of government contracts, and high taxes. Last week Forrester talked about economic development in much the way discussed above. That’s a start, and he received some free media for his efforts. Nonetheless, he still needs to flesh out his positions on a number of policy issues, issues that he will be questioned about by the media, by citizens on the campaign trail, and during his debates with Jon Corzine. Forrester must do this quickly and prepare to hit the airwaves soon. He can also benefit by coordinating his points and positions with GOP assembly candidates. He may also learn something from them. Many of those Republican candidates are employing the technique recommended above. They are not just attacking their opponents but telling voters what they will do for them in a variety of issue areas. The guy at the top of the GOP ticket needs to get with the program. David P. Rebovich, Ph.D., is Managing Director of the Rider University Institute for New Jersey Politics (www.rider.edu/institute). He also writes a regular column, “On Politics,” for NEW JERSEY LAWYER.

A POSITIVE WAY FOR FORRESTER TO GO NEGATIVE