DENVER – Republicans who feel that New Jersey just might be winnable for John McCain sometimes look back to 1984, when Ronald Reagan carried Elizabeth over Walter Mondale.
Back then, Elizabeth Mayor Thomas Dunn endorsed Reagan. J. Christian Bollwage, then a Councilman, was there when Reagan held a rally in town – his first public appearance since being shot, he said.
"I said to him 'President Reagan, we're all Democrats here!' He said 'You should jump in. The water's fine."
But since Reagan's visit the demographics of this town have shifted significantly, with a huge influx of Hispanic immigrants. Its black vote, expected to go heavily for Obama, remains unchanged, while the working-class white "Reagan Democrats" are fewer.
Yesterday, Bollwage, voted with the rest of the New Jersey delegation to nominate Barack Obama for President. He doesn't think McCain stands a chance in Elizabeth, a city which provides huge pluralities to Democratic candidates.
(Reagan, who came within 1,341 votes of carrying it in 1980, Gov. Thomas Kean in 1985, and former U.S. Rep. Matthew J. Rinaldo, were the exceptions.)
"The demographics of Elizabeth since the Reagan Democratic vote in the 1980's have changed somewhat with a large influx of Hispanic immigrants. They, I believe, are going to vote Democrat because the issues affect them just the same, such as lower wages, home foreclosures, jobs that have left the area for blue collar workers," he said.
But the McCain campaign has been trying to make inroads in Elizabeth's environs. Earlier this month, they trotted out Linden Mayor Richard Gerbounka, an independent supporter of McCain who was a Democrat until he left the party 2006 (Gerbounka, however, supported McCain in 2000 and voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004).
Bollwage said he understands that the McCain campaign is going for the blue collar vote with Gerboundka. But he doesn't know what's in it for his fellow mayor.
"He's going to need support from the Democratic apparatus in New Jersey to get projects done. I don't know how he's going to do that without ticking off the Democratic Establishment by being so blatant. But he's a maverick, an independent and he doesn't care. God bless him," said Bollwage. "I don't mean it as a threat…. I just think he shuts down a major opportunity for himself to dialogue with other people, that's all."