Finally, The Senate Race Is Over … Now What?

By Steve Adubato, Ph.D. Time to take a look back at this ugly, nasty, all-too-long race for the U.S. Senate in New Jersey. Where do we start? * First of all, it was way too long. It seemed to go on for years — not months or weeks. There is a movement to try to shorten political campaign seasons so that voters are not fatigued by the constant barrage of 30-second television spots that say so little and destroy so much, particularly the reputations of one or both of the candidates. I say a campaign should last six months, that’s it. A candidate should be able to raise money at any time (particularly if he or she isn’t independently wealthy) but the public campaign should only go on from May 1 to Election Day. Sure, I know it is probably unconstitutional, but it is practical. By Election Day, most voters have had it. It wasn’t so much that they were voting for one candidate or the other, they just wanted an end to the agony. * A lot of people who voted for Bob Menendez expressed some concern regarding the much-publicized ethical issues surrounding him. One of the biggest was a rental transaction involving a property he owned in Hudson County. A non-profit organization was paying rent to then Congressman Menendez at market value. I’m not sure there was anything wrong with it, but U.S. Attorney Chris Christie and the Feds were, and still, are looking into the details of that arrangement. In most cases, things like this go away after the election. In this case, I’m betting this real estate deal won’t, which is why Senator Menendez has hired high-powered criminal attorneys to look out for his interests. * Menendez still beat Tom Kean Jr. by a comfortable margin because most voters can’t stand President Bush and think even less of his Iraq policy. This was less a vote for Bob Menendez and more a protest vote against the Republican White House. New Jersey voters really dislike our president, which makes it virtually impossible for any Republican to run statewide — even one like Tom Kean Jr. who tried everything to distance himself from the Republican White House and never even referred to himself as a Republican candidate. * As for Tom Kean Jr., I say he blew it. He had a perfectly fine, clean, if not overly impressive, reputation as a young state legislator with a Boy Scout image. But he threw that away by deciding to savage Bob Menendez, actually calling him “corrupt” (even though his father Tom Kean Sr. wouldn’t). But what Kean never understood was that even though his campaign advisors told him that his best bet was to constantly attack Menendez on the issue of ethics, voters still needed a reason to vote FOR Kean Jr. Kean Jr.’s best asset was his father’s name, but he needed to make it clear who HE was and is as a public person. He was too stiff, too programmed and too obsessed with tearing down Menendez to inspire and motivate voters around his candidacy. * Further, Kean Jr. was less than honest when it came to his relationship with the White House. Months ago, Vice President Dick Cheney came into the state to raise over $400,000 for Kean’s campaign. But young Tom never made it to the fundraiser and said he was caught in traffic. His explanation insulted our intelligence. Obviously he wanted the Republican White House’s money, but didn’t want to have his picture taken with Cheney. Later, he would have former President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush campaign and raise money for him, but still refused to call himself a “Republican”, one again insulting our intelligence. * Kean Jr. said on election night that he is not going away. I hope he is right, because he has something to offer. However, the next time he runs, he must decide who and what HE is and what HE stands for instead of having his campaign advisors convince him that tearing down his opponent is the only way to win. * Conventional wisdom says that “negative campaigning” works. That’s a crock. What does “works” really mean? Think about it. Somebody has to win, so if one candidate wins and both use the politics of personal destruction, how can we say it “works?” Somebody had to win. There were no other options. What a cynical attitude. Consider all the registered voters who opted not to participate because of how turned off they were and the impact this has on our system of representative Democracy. * And what about all those qualified people who have so much to offer in public service who won’t participate in such a degrading and disgusting process? When that happens, we all lose. * So how again does “negative campaigning” work? Maybe it’s me, but I just don’t get it. When will we learn in New Jersey and the nation that we all pay the price for the quality of our campaigns even though someone ” all be it a broken, battered and embarrassed candidate ” ultimately takes office? Those are my thoughts about this U.S. Senate race. What are yours? Write to me at sadubato@aol.com.

Finally, The Senate Race Is Over … Now What?