Using the immigration issue and what he hears as President Barack Obama’s double talk on the subject, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Bell has tried to wrangle Latino voters in his bid to upset U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) next Tuesday.
As Bell sees it, the most significant NJ difference between 1978 and now is the jump in minority populations, from 7-18% for Hispanics and 1-7% for Asians.
Cutting into that with the immigration cudgel looks like sound strategy only he admits he probably doesn’t have the money he needs to back down Booker. As a delegate for Ronald Reagan in 1980, Bell recalls the fight for Hudson County, which Reagan didn’t win then – but which he secured in 1984.
“If it’s going to break in my direction it’s going to break for me with undecided voters,” Bell told PolitickerNJ. “I haven’t been on television. I get no facial recognition on the streets because my ads have only been on radio, but I’m making a big effort to get Hispanic votes.
“My argument is that Senator Booker and President Obama are all talk on immigration,” the U.S. Senate candidate added. “When he [Obama] had the votes in 2009 and 2010 with majorities led by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid he did nothing. He broke that pledge of immigration reform and instead passed the Affordable Care Act. Since then he talks about it all the time and basically nothing happens. I think Hispanic voters are sick of hearing all the talk and the politicization of the issue.”
Bell noticed Booker’s backpedaling from Obama at their lone debate, which he claimed credit for: driving a wedge between the President and incumbent U.S. Senator as the polls show Obama sinking in the Garden State.
“It’s been a major campaign theme of mine, whether I’ll have resources in time is another matter, but Senator Booker has stopped mentioning President Obama,” Bell said. “He’s very vulnerable as a down the line supporter of Obama. This is a president who two years ago won the state by 15 points.”
Dead set against his and Obama’s policies, Bell said he has no opinion of Booker personally.
“I got to know Bill Bradley during the campaign [when Bell ran in 1978],” said the GOP candidate. “We debated 21 times and made a lot of public appearances. I’ve only laid eyes on Senator Booker two times during the whole campaign. That time in Rutherford, yes, [at the start of the season] we had a cordial conversation. The only other time I have seen him was at the debate [last Friday in Trenton].”
Bell says the lack of confrontation has to do with a cultural shift.
“The cultural change that’s taken place on the left essentially means they don’t do debating anymore,” he said. “They don’t feel obligated to have to rebut anyone who disagrees with them. Their assumption is they are right and anyone who disagrees is an absurd person and doesn’t deserve a debate.”
Bell said Bradley debated him 21 times despite the fact that the Democrat was far ahead in the polls heading into the general election.
“He was far further ahead of me than Booker,” said the Republican. “I had 15 minutes of fame for knocking off [Senator Clifford] Case on the tax issue, but the first poll I saw in a head to head with Bradley, he was ahead of me 60-40 in a poll in Morris County, a county where I did very well. That says good things about Bill, but in those days people on both the left and right felt more of a sense of obligation. You didn’t not have a debate. That mindset has disappeared.”
Asked about the Ebola controversy and Gov. Chris Christie’s flap with a nurse returning from Africa, Bell said, “I think he was more right than the Obama administration, which is treating this as a public relations situation. But quarantining people from West African countries is not enough. We need a travel ban. I wish Senator Booker would identify the experts he keeps talking about. If an expert says it or a lot of experts say it, your thinking is over. Christie at least is trying to figure out a policy and using his mandate as an elected official.”
On the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy and in the context of the debate raging in the Fifth Congressional District between incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) and Democratic challenger Roy Cho, Bell said, “What I would say is there are too many [government] safe guards that held up people entitled to federal reimbursement. I’m not against Congress and the federal government coming in and helping those who have no recourse but federal aid is typical of federal programs that have gone from bad to worse in the Obama administration. It’s just sadly consistent.”
Drastically underfunded in his match-up with Booker, Bell looked at others who have challenged unsuccessfully for a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey.
Since the era of the moderate Case, beaten by Bell in 1978, no Republican has picked off a U.S. Senate seat.
Asked by PolitickerNJ if any candidates since his first run provided a blueprint for victory, he said there are two.
“Bob Franks in 2000,’ Bell said. “Of course, he was more moderate in his views than I am but he really had a sense of [Jon] Corzine’s vulnerability. Franks played on Corzine’s arrogance and seeming invulnerability.”
Corzine edged Franks 50-47%.
“The other is Christie Whitman, who was cut off by Washington and had no TV, only radio,” Bell said. “She came within a couple of points of beating Bill Bradley when she honed in on the Florio tax increase. She nearly pulled it off and very much had the sense of not getting discouraged even though Washington did not see NJ as a targetable race.”