Roselle Park felt a little bit like Des Moines last night, when about 200 Democrats gathered at an Italian restaurant for the New Jersey Democratic Caucus, where the results didn’t mean much but Democratic passion was on full display.
But if the results actually held water, then the world of New Jersey politics is topsy-turvy, because Hillary Clinton – who continues to lead state polls by 30% margins — was eliminated in the first round of caucusing, coming in short of the 15% threshold with 27 members – 6 less than Dennis Kucinich’s 33.
And ultimately John Edwards, who barely makes a dent in New Jersey polls, prevailed with 76 supporters to Barack Obama’s 68 and Kucinich’s 34.
The event was conceived and organized by Jeff Gardner, co-chair of New Jersey for Democracy, and John Bartlett, Chairman of the Executive Committee of New Jersey’s Democratic Future. Gardner had seen the Iowa caucuses four years ago, and thought it would be fun to imitate. The two organizers invited every candidate – except one.
“We didn’t invite Mike Gravel because we didn’t know how to find him,” said Gardner Alaska. Only one other candidate, Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd, did not send a surrogate.
But while Dennis Kucinich isn’t likely to come in third place on election day, Bartlett thought that the caucus results had some significance.
“The folks in this room are not the people who max out campaign contributions, but they’re maxing out in shoe leather,” he said.
Even so, the party’s establishment was out in full force tonight. Assemblyman/Democratic State Committee Chairman Joe Cryan introduced Assemblywoman Linda Stender, who’s running for congress here in the seventh district.
“The reason I haven’t endorsed is because I am going to be proud to run with whoever the Democratic candidate is, and I know that we’re all going to work together at the end of the day to make sure we elect a Democratic president and a Democratic congress,” said Stender.
Senate President Dick Codey showed up to give a quick speech in support of Edwards, citing his blue collar background.
“He will always understand that the mill worker in Robbins, NC deserves as much of a voice as the millionaire in Short Hills,” said Codey.
Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson-Coleman pinch hit for Clinton, saying that a candidate who’s undergone as much scrutiny as she has is not unelectable.
“In my book she is the most electable Democratic candidate running for president – she is the tested candidate – she is the most vetted candidate – we’ve been in her bedroom and she’s still standing.”
U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman was there for Obama, touting his candidate as having the best chance of beating a Republican. But he got a few boos after saying that nominating any other candidate could lead to congressional losses. (Rothman got a similar reaction after taking a swipe Hillary Clinton at the Democratic State Convention in September).
“We want the Democrat who can win – does it makes any sense to nominate someone who already half of the country’s voters’ say they don’t like or don’t support? Does that make sense for the Democratic Party? No,” said Rothman to laughter from Clinton supporters.
The lesser-known candidates got lesser-known names: Bradley Beach Councilwoman Julie Schreck stood for Kucinich, who had a surprisingly strong showing. She touted him as the most anti-war candidate, and the only one willing to undertake real reforms.
“When Warren Buffet was telling people that our nation’s income tax system is generous to him, we know we have a problem. Only Dennis Kucinich has the independence, courage and integrity to eliminate waste from our bloated,” said Schrek.
Joe Biden’s state director, Larry Stempler, said that his candidate had a deeper understanding of foreign affairs than any of the others, and noted that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf called him to discuss that country’s political situation – before reaching out to President Bush.
“Musharraf actually called Joe Biden before he talked to anyone in this administration. That’s a sad, sad commentary of what we have today, but it also shows the respect that he has in this world,” said Stempler.
Bill Richardson, who only had six supporters in the first round, was represented by his New York City director Allison Tupper, who gave the most policy-oriented speech of the bunch.
“We were getting petitions signed in New York and we talked to an awful lot of Republicans who said ‘No, I can’t sign your petition I’m a Republican, but he’s the one for me.”
After Clinton failed to make the first cut, having fallen short of the 15% threshold, her supporters shrugged the loss off as insignificant.
“She has the support of 19 of 21 county chairs,” said Al Komjathy, a lobbyist from Lambertville. “We could have brought in a bus of Clinton supporters.”