Republican gubernatorial nominee Chris Christie has publicly sworn off political considerations in making his eventual Lieutenant Governor pick, arguing that the public will vote largely based on who occupies the top of the ticket.
But the two women said to be at the top of Christie’s shortlist – state Sen. Diane Allen (R-Edgewater Park) and Bergen County Clerk Kathleen Donovan — each has a history of running strong in regions that are crucial to Christie’s electoral prospects, and both could help Republicans down-ballot in their respective counties.
Christie alone will have the say on his choice for the number two spot, so he could surprise observers with his pick. But media speculation about who he will choose has come down to Allen, who repeatedly wins reelection in a South Jersey legislative district that has a two-to-one Democrat registration advantage, and Donovan, who over the last decade has been the one Republican bulwark against the Bergen County Democratic Organization’s complete dominance and last year won reelection the most votes of any county-wide candidate, Democrat or Republican.
“These are counties that have gone Democratic in many cases over the last few years in statewide races after having been solidly Republican for a while,” said Monmouth University pollster and political science professor Patrick Murray. “These are counties that Christie must win.”
But Murray mostly agreed with Chrsitie’s argument that most voters will not be swayed by the Lieutenant Governor. In fact, he said, the down-ballot impact will be based more on how Christie performs in each county than on who his running mate is.
Bergen County Republican Chairman Bob Yudin, who set aside his historically icy relationship with Donovan to praise her, agreed.
“As Chris says… people pretty much vote for the top of the ticket,” he said. “Kathe would be an excellent addition to the ticket if Chris were to pick her… I have informed Chris that whoever he picks will have 1000% support of the BCRO”
Still, Donovan, who is from Rutherford, runs strong in working-class south Bergen towns – an area where Christie needs to bleed typically Democratic votes if he’s going to carry the county. The region also dominates the 36th Legislative District, where Republicans are hoping to run a competitive race.
While one can look to presidential elections and gubernatorial races in other states to study the importance of running mate picks, this is the first time New Jersey voters will see a candidate for lieutenant governor on the ballot, leaving a certain amount of uncertainty about the office’s impact.
“It’s certainly not going to hurt us,” said Republican assembly candidate Don Diorio, who was present when Christie and Donovan campaigned together in Rutherford on Thursday – an event largely seen as part of her audition to be Christie’s running mate. “[Donovan] has been a good supporter of ours and has been prominent in our events,”
Deirdre Woodbyrne, a media consultant who is managing the Republican freeholder campaigns of Rob Hermansen and John Driscoll, thinks that this cycle offers the best chance in years to win a seat on the board. It’s been all Democrats since Republican Lisa Randall left in 2006. Donovan, she said, could help pull in her candidates.
“I’ve had friends that said to me ‘I’m a Democrat, and Kathe Donovan I voted for her because of what she stands for,” she said.
Donovan does not have a flawless electoral record. She lost a 1987 state senate campaign, a congressional bid in 1996 against U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-Fair Lawn) and a Republican primary for county executive ten years later to Todd Caliguire. Nevertheless, last year she easily defeated a well-funded challenge to win a fifth term as clerk.
One drawback that Republicans would face from Christie/Donovan win would by an open county clerk seat, finally giving Democrats their long-coveted opportunity to take over that office. But with a Christie candidacy giving them their best chance in years to win other seats, they seem willing to make the sacrifice.
Likewise, a Christie/Allen victory would open up a Republican-held Senate seat vulnerable to Democratic takeover.
Burlington County Republican Chairman Bill Layton, who has often been at odds with Allen, said that keeping the seat would be a tough fight, but that Republicans would prevail. He named Sheriff Jean Stanfield, Freeholder Joe Donnelly and former Freeholder Aubrey Fenton as possible replacement candidates.
Layton presides over a party with a precarious hold on the freeholder board. Even if he and Allen don’t have a close relationship, her candidacy could help bolster Republican totals there.
Layton noted that in her 2002 U.S. Senate run, Allen beat Republican rival Doug Forrester by 15,000 votes in Burlington County.
“I think Diane Allen is extremely popular and has been a proven vote-getter for some time in south Jersey,” he said. “In Burlington County I think having familiar faces like Chris Christie and Diane Allen would have an impact.”
The Christie campaign did not get specific about the motivation behind the pick.
"Whoever Chris chooses for Lieutenant Governor will be a strong advocate forthe policies that will bring real relief to strapped middle class families,which is good for all New Jerseyans regardless of political party," said Christie spokeswoman Maria Comella.