by MATT FRIEDMAN
Democrats seem to be publicizing President Bush’s fundraising trip to New Jersey next week with as much enthusiasm as the Republicans.
On Wednesday, Bush will be in Edison to raise cash for the Republican State Committee, with ticket prices ranging for $300 per-person to attend the main reception to $5,000 for a photo-op with the President.
Democrats quickly seized on the opportunity to score political points by associating their local opponents with a President whose approval rating in New Jersey is a horribly upside-down 25%-70%, according to an April Quinnipiac University poll.
“I think we’ve publicized the idea of bringing in a president who’s so out of touch with New Jersey,” said Democratic State Chairman Joseph Cryan. “They have a money disadvantage and this is their Hail Mary. They just have a bad quarterback.”
As early as May 11th, the Democratic State Committee sent out a tongue-in-cheek email reminding voters to “mark the date” of Bush’s Edison visit, noting “If the GOP won’t publicize this, we will.” The email said transportation would be provided by Tom Kean, Jr., who took heat during his U.S. Senate race last year when he skipped his own fundraiser featuring Vice Preisdent Richard Cheney. Kean blamed it on heavy Route 1 traffic.
On its Web site, the Democratic State Committee even posted a scorecard that lists which local Republicans will and will not be attending the event and whether or not they will accept the money raised by Bush, encouraging constituents to call their Republican representatives and ask. Few Republicans have responded so far. Aside from the hosts, none on the list had said that they were committed to attending.
Several Democratic legislators released press releases today demanding to know whether their Republican opponents would attend the event.
Labor unions have also taken issue with the visit. The Building and Construction Trades Council, sent out a press release yesterday asking “our friends in the Republican Party” not to attend.
The Democrats’ biggest targets, said Cryan, are the more moderate local Republicans who otherwise would distance themselves from national figures like Bush. “I think those people have some real explaining to do if they choose to stand with the President and take his dollars,” said Cryan. “They need to renounce the dollars immediately.”
But Republican State Committee spokesman Todd Riffle disputed the notion that they’re trying to keep the fundraiser low-key, noting that the invitation for the event has the most prominent placement on the front page of the Republican State Committee’s Web site (it’s also on the front page of the State Democratic Committee’s site), and that the event will be open to the press.
"People want a change and are sick and tired of seeing the Democrats do nothing to reform property taxes, do nothing to cut waste out of the budget, and continue to offer gimmicks and schemes that will leave New Jersey in a worse shape,” said Riffle. “Attacks like these are just another opportunity lost by the Democrats and demonstrates their failure to offer any sort of bold vision or significant course correction that New Jersey so desperately needs."
State Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance, who’s co-hosting the event along with GOP State Chairman Tom Wilson and Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, did not know details about how many people would attend or which legislators were going to come, but he doubted that Democrats’ attempts to tie President Bush to the local party would be successful.
“I think the New Jersey electorate is very sophisticated and will be concentrating this year on state issues. I believe state issues are on our side, the Republican side – fiscal responsibility and ethical responsibility,” said Lance.
Prominent Republican legislators and candidates in competitive primary races were hard to reach today, perhaps because calls were placed to them on the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day. Jay Webber, who’s running for the Republican nomination for Assembly in the 21st district – one of New Jersey’s most conservative – said he has his own fundraiser that night and will not be able to attend. Nor will the more moderate Jen Beck, according to the State Democratic Committee’s scorecard. No word from State Senator Tom Kean, Jr., but Union County Republican Chair Phil Morin is definitely going to be there.
Guy Gregg, a conservative running in the State Senate Primary against Steve Oroho, said he has a “meet and greet” campaign event scheduled and can’t attend the fundraiser. But he still thinks it’s a good idea.
“It’s a state party event to raise money for the state party. We’re happy about that,” said Gregg. “And certainly if you’re going to get the President of the United States to come in. There are people who are going to write checks, and that’s great for the party.”
Some observers see the Democrats’ strategy as an obvious way to take voters’ minds away from local issues that voters might hold against party, issues that the Republicans might otherwise win votes on.
“It makes good political sense to do that,” David Rebovich, managing director of the Rider University Institute for New Jersey Politics. “To try to exploit the president’s low popularity here, because it does deflect some attention from the ongoing fiscal crisis in New Jersey, a state that’s been controlled by Democrats for the last five years or more…. I don’t know how fair it is, but it makes sense for them to do that.”