Bergen GOP strategy: Caligure & Reagan, good; Donovan and Whitman, bad

The Bergen County Republican Organization has an unusual strategy in the race for County Executive: in an effort to cast County Executive candidate Kathleen Donovan as a liberal, they are attacking the record of another Republican, former Governor Christine Todd Whitman. This week, the BCRO sent out an e-mail that uses images of Whitman and accusations that the ex-Governor was responsible for huge tax hikes and overspending, in an effort to help their candidate, Todd Caliguire, appeal to conservative primary voters. “Of course we expect Donovan and her merry band of Whitman RINOs to attack us for going negative,” the e-mail stated. “Nothing could be further from the truth. All we are doing is informing our fellow Republicans as to which candidate represents the failed Whitman wing of the party.” In contrast, the BCRO has taken to using photographs of the late Ronald Reagan in their campaign press releases. The BCRO strategy is not without irony. The last time Whitman ran, in 1997, she carried Bergen County by 30,100 votes — substantially better than other GOP candidates have fared. As State Assemblyman from 1997 to 2001, Bergen County Republican Chairman Guy Talarico supported much of Whitman’s agenda. And votes for certain tax increases made by Donovan came during her one term as a State Assemblywoman from 1986 to 1988, when Republican Thomas Kean was Governor. The Civil War in Bergen County will not be helpful to the GOP candidate for United States Senator, Thomas Kean, Jr., who said last week that he was siding with Talarico and running on the BCRO line. No Republican has ever won a statewide election in New Jersey without carrying Bergen, where Democrats have dominated in recent statewide elections. Jon Corzine beat Douglas Forrester by 34,302 votes in 2005, John Kerry won Bergen by 17,833 votes in 2004, Frank Lautenberg carried the county by 28,969 votes in 2002, James E. McGreveey led Bret Schundler by 29,004 votes in 2001. The last Republican statewide candidate to win Bergen was Bob Franks, who carried Bergen by 3,932 votes over Corzine in 2000. In the last four elections, only two Republicans have won Bergen: Donovan, who was re-elected County Clerk by 14,686 votes against former Freeholder Linda Baer in 2003, and Elizabeth Randall, who defeated incumbent Freeholder Tomas Padilla that year. Democratic Freeholder candidates won by more than 20,000 votes in 2005 and by more than 35,000 in 2004.

Bergen GOP strategy: Caligure & Reagan, good; Donovan and Whitman, bad