ATLANTIC CITY – It’s always dangerous to do events in enormous rooms because when turnout is lighter than usual it shows, and yet with their numbers diminished in the 1970s décor of Bally’s Casino, Democrats clinked the silverware and tried to grin through the pain.
Gov. Chris Christie wasn’t present, of course, but much of the grimacing conversation revolved around him.
A messaging confab held by Brad Lawrence convened a short time ago in which the audience role-played Christie versus President Barack Obama and honed their skills at shaping campaign slogans.
Democratic State Chairman John Wisniewski had a word at the ready when asked what his party was doing here.
“Focus,” he said.
Former Party Chairman Tom Byrne started this tradition back in 1995 in Long Branch.
“There was a reason we had it there, it was because I wanted people focused on the party and not casinos,” he said.
A day after the party fronted North Bergen Mayor Nick Sacco and the dented Hudson County Democratic Organization at the conference kickoff party, Wisniewski said it was important to get party members thinking about organization.
Anchoring much of the message was state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, (D-37), Teaneck, who’s fighting to restore women’s health care funding in the state budget against a stubbornly resistant Republican governor.
“Women’s issues are going to be critical in terms of shaping a message for the party statewide,” an insider told PolitickerNJ.com moments before Camden Mayor Dana Redd launched into a formal welcome and recognition of female lawmakers.
But tonight, an all-male congressional delegation will be in attendance, ostensibly to inflate party spirits but quietly self-interested in congressional redistricting. In a year in which New Jersey stands to lose a seat due to population shrinkage, all are jockeying for representation on a six-member redistricting commission.
“That hasn’t been picked yet,” Wisniewski said.
But some names unofficially in the mix ahead of a June 15 deadline include Mark Madsen (Holt), Ed Farmer (Pascrell), and Maggie Moran (Pallone).
An abbreviated crowd spilled into the reception area in between events, repeatedly rankled by a fire alarm test someone just said was the handiwork of the city, not the casino.
“Loretta Weinberg, you’re a friend of mine – fighting for women’s rights,” said U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, (D-NJ), after receiving a standing ovation from party members. “This fight in Trenton is mostly against women. We see some Democrats sitting on their hands and even moving over to the other side to help Republicans.
“Right now, we’ve got our backs against the wall, but women are stepping up to our governor. Christie (who accused Speaker Sheila Oliver of lying)… is king of the liars.”