Lonegan: Christie will have to ‘maintain’ conservative positions or risk losing base vote

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Steven Lonegan reaffirmed his support for GOP nominee Christopher Christie in an email to supporters today, but under the condition that Christie sticks to the conservative principles he professed in the primary.

"Our nominee for Governor has openly embraced conservatism and if he continues on that path, all of us should work hard for his election," wrote Lonegan. "As the Republican nominee Chris Christie will also have to maintain his positions on the issues that convinced many Republicans he was a conservative, and convince many in the GOP establishment to go with him."

Christie beat Lonegan by 13 points in last week's primary – 55% to 42%. Assemblyman Rick Merkt (R-Mendham) received 3% of the vote.

"You have moved your party to the right," Lonegan wrote to his supporters.

Lonegan said that the other primary candidates were racing to claim the conservative mantle, trying to outdo each other in opposition to the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH). When Lonegan ran four years ago, he said, he was chastised just for even mentioning that program. Christie, Lonegan said, espoused conservative views not just on COAH, but on issues including same-sex marriage, school vouchers and abortion.

The former Bogota Mayor also suggested that while he feels comfortable with Christie, he doesn't necessarily back all Republican incumbents seeking re-election to the State Assembly.

"Our Republican legislators and the leadership of their caucuses need to join Chris Christie in his professed conservatism and stop promoting the leftist agenda of Assembly Speaker (Joseph) Roberts and Senate President (Richard) Codey," Lonegan wrote. "While the Christie campaign surrounded itself with the likes of (Bret) Schundler, (Murray) Sabrin and (Steve) Forbes, the legislative caucuses have provided the votes for every single left-wing piece of legislation passed since Jim McGreevey took the oath of office and continuing through Governors Codey and Corzine. This must end."

Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray said that the Lonegan letter appeared to be a message to supporters that he would stick around and continue to be involved in the conservative cause.

"It's to keep them on board, letting them know that the flame hasn't gone out," he said.

Although Gov. Jon Corzine has already started hanging Christie's conservative positions over his head in two cable television ads in the hope that they will convince moderate New Jerseyans that Christie is out of touch, Murray said that the Lonegan letter was not a liability.

"Chris Christie's never run from that in this race," said Murray, who noted that other statewide Republicans had tried to tone down the conservatism in the general election. "What would be more costly for Chris Christie is if he swung his position."

The full text of Lonegan's e-mail:

Subject: You Moved the Republican Party to the Right!

Dear Friend,

Something unexpected happened over the course of the campaign for the Republican nomination for Governor – the candidate of the GOP establishment announced he had become a conservative. That happened because of you, the grassroots activists of the conservative movement throughout New Jersey. You have moved your party to the right.

If you caught one of the debates you were treated to the remarkable experience of seeing every Republican gubernatorial candidate trying to claim the conservative mantle. Just four years ago, I was chastised for even mentioning COAH, the taxpayer-subsidized program of Trenton mandated low-income housing. By the time June 2nd had arrived, every Republican candidate for Governor was promising to "abolish," "eliminate" or "gut" COAH.

The GOP establishment used to call Republicans like Bret Schundler and Murray Sabrin, "right-wing extremists." This election, they adorned establishment literature and gave credibility to the establishment candidate. In order to win last Tuesday, the "moderates" who run the New Jersey GOP had to get in touch with their "inner Republican" and embrace the conservatism of Ronald Reagan – 20 years after he left office.

But there's a big difference between the movement conservatives of today and those who fought with Reagan (and later with Newt Gingrich). The new breed of conservative doesn't trust the GOP. Anyone attending a "tea party" last April picked that up and who can blame these voters, with the way conservatives were betrayed by Christie Whitman and George Bush?

Today, there's a strong network of conservative organizations with tens of thousands of contacts and, thanks to the advance of the Internet, a ready means of getting out our message. This wasn't around in 1993.

The decline of special interest, money-driven politics has been mirrored by the rise of grassroots, issues-oriented politics.

You are the conservative grassroots future of the New Jersey Republican Party. You proved that, when you collected the most signatures in our state's history, to place me on the ballot. You proved that again, when thousands of you made contributions – both large and small – to outstrip the number of donors to the GOP establishment by a large margin. There are just a handful of elected conservatives now, but from those thousands of signatures, thousands of contributors, thousands of activists – more will come forward as candidates and will be elected.

Chris Christie won the Republican nomination for Governor, and I am supporting him over Democrat Jon Corzine. Chris Christie was once a moderate to liberal Freeholder and legislative candidate. That was fifteen years ago. This year, he ran as a conservative and mirrored many of the same positions I have championed for years: school vouchers, opposition to COAH, pro-Life and the defense of marriage to name a few. As the Republican nominee Chris Christie will put some details on the policies he talked about and I would be happy to work with him on that.

As the Republican nominee Chris Christie will also have to maintain his positions on the issues that convinced many Republicans he was a conservative, and convince many in the GOP establishment to go with him. Our Republican legislators and the leadership of their caucuses need to join Chris Christie in his professed conservatism and stop promoting the leftist agenda of Assembly Speaker Roberts and Senate President Codey. I'm happy to help with that too.

While the Christie campaign surrounded itself with the likes of Schundler, Sabrin and Forbes, the legislative caucuses have provided the votes for every single left-wing piece of legislation passed since Jim McGreevey took the oath of office and continuing through Governors Codey and Corzine. This must end.

However, the responsibility to ensure the advancement of the conservative movement falls upon us all. It is our responsibility to stay politically active to make sure the Republican Party is the party of conservative policies, and that candidates who embrace those policies are elected to public office. This will be done through traditional grass-roots efforts as well as becoming involved as a county committee member and as a Republican club member.

Our nominee for Governor has openly embraced conservatism and if he continues on that path, all of us should work hard for his election. Our Republican legislative delegation must embrace our message or they will remain in a hopeless minority. Finally, our unelected far-left judiciary in New Jersey has corrupted the democratic process and robbed the elected branches of government of the powers given them by the voters. Until this imbalance is addressed, the systemic changes New Jersey needs to prosper will never be made.

Nationally, Republicans are holding an open debate about the future of our party. Some say it should become more like the Democrats. Most argue for a return to core principles. In New Jersey – because of you – that discussion is over and the latter argument won because both Mr. Christie and I campaigned on a message of conservative leadership putting taxpayers first.

That is the message that will take back our state, before it's too late. There's a lot of work to do. Don't stop now, we have just begun.

On to Victory,
Steve Lonegan
June 9, 2009

Lonegan: Christie will have to ‘maintain’ conservative positions or risk losing base vote