The consensus among party players is that the Christie-led Republicans will spend some of the money from state committee coffers – but not all, as they use this map-deprived cycle mostly as a precursor to protecting Gov. Chris Christie statewide in 2013.
“They will target a few state Senate and Assembly races, and other than that, they will look at some county races of significance to the party, but other than that you would not be wrong to think they wouldn’t spend it all and would save for the future,” said a high ranking Republican leader, who agreed that state party money would probably ultimately be best spent on the governor and not on nook and cranny contests played out on a map favoring Democrats.
Another source told PolitickerNJ.com that Christie has scheduled a meeting in the coming days with Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-21) and Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce (R-26) to consider the strategy of Big Three money and specifically the role of the State Committee’s augmented finances.
“It’s his money, so it’s his call,” said a party source, referring to the State Committee’s whopping $1.7 million plus raised so far this year.
In possession of 16 Senate seats compared to the Democrats’ 24, GOP sources admit that when Republicans lost the map to Democrats during redistricting earlier this year, they severely minimized their potential to be competitive in senate and assembly races.
Hence, the absence of more bloodcurdling war cries in the lead-up to post Labor Day campaign activities.
“The reality is that in the Senate we have 2 and 38,” said another establishment player, referring to the Atlantic County- and Bergen County-based districts, where state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-2) and state Sen. Robert Gordon (D-38) are running for re-election against, respectively, Assemblyman Vince Polistina (R-2) and Freeholder Director John Driscoll.
For the record, state Kean doesn’t share that view. He has repeatedly told people around him that he believes the party has a serious shot in LD14 with plumber/pipefitter Richard Kanka, who wants to dethrone state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14).
In the Assembly, Burlington County Republicans want to try to grab two seats in District 7, one of them occupied by longtime incumbent Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-7). Aided by the volatility of the Senate contest, the GOP also wants to try to take two seats in LD38.
There are other pockets, including make ‘em sweat strategies laid out for 1 and 27, but those former contests are the competitively conceived races that stand out, where even with the most hype, the GOP has the potential – in the best of circumstances – to pick up two, maybe three Senate seats.
No Republican source interviewed by PolitickerNJ.com said he/she would be surprised by a zero gain in the Senate.
At least one source said Christie could prove he has more than 2013 in mind by rummaging more deeply and committing funds in key races.
“The party is definitely in better shape because of Gov. Christie,” the source told PolitickerNJ.com. “But this election will be a good sign of whether he’s really about being a party builder and different, say, than a Christie Todd Whitman.”
A key test of that, the source added, would be to watch whether the State Party Committee devotes any money to freeholder races in Gloucester and Cumberland counties, or in Essex County, where the GOP is seriously vying for two freeholder seats and where Essex County Republican Party Chairman Kevin O’Toole just resigned.
Some in the party speculate that O’Toole – a long time cross-the-aisle ally of Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo’s – wants to avoid manning a frontal assault on Essex County Democratic Party power with state money at his back.
But by and large, significant pressure will not be there for the state committee to do more than arm up for Christie’s re-election year.
“This is about building infrastructure,” said a GOP source. “Districts 2 and 28, sure, but this is about testing campaign managers and staffers for 2013.”