Tuesday limped lamely into view without suggestion of epic consequences. Clearly by the end of the night, as Rutgers-Eagleton polling showed 76% of New Jerseyans claimed zero knowledge of a coming election, no one would be able to lay claim to a Ben Hur moment.
It felt more like quicksand than a chariot race for the future of democracy.
The “action” unfolded turgidly, against the backdrop of a more interesting developing presidential contest wherein Governor Chris Christie polled a dismal single-digit ninth place, according to the latest Monmouth University Poll. Despite a lackluster showing in the closely watched contest, Christie refused to get out of the race.
Meanwhile, New Jersey district races no one cared about were “too close to call.”
Out of the two disconnected theaters emerged a surreal, overlapping quasi-drama: Christie at the national level attempted to inflate every guy sound-bites into impassioned traction-building headlines; while special interest PACs poured millions (42% of all spending this cycle, according to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission) into NJ legislative districts in an effort to stimulate passions where none apparently existed.
The common theme seemed to be whether it was Christie’s individual effort nationally or the district races district-wide, no one could summon a level of convincing sustained interest. Pre-Election Day, New Jersey emerged as an early loser, at least by the reckoning of one prez debate watcher.
“On the national stage, when ad rates for CNBC went for 250k and the night before 20k,
[Prez candidate Donald] Trump absolutely kills Atlantic City and the state for its management of the city, while crowing about using bankruptcy laws to make money off us and our own governor calls us rude.. ‘even for Jersey’,” one viewer, a Democrat, complained to PolitickerNJ.
“Why would anyone come to our state after watching that for tourism, a major economic engine for our state,” the source added. “Absolutely brutal night for Jersey.”
Gunning for headlines, Christie alternated his attacks on Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the media with a double swipe at the Black Lives Matter Movement and the President. Obama, Christie said, “doesn’t back up the police. He justifies Black Lives Matter.” And people in the Black Lives Matter movement advocate the killing of cops, the governor said – and said again.
That prompted U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12) to issue a scathing rebuke of the governor.
“As if we needed any further proof that Christie isn’t the right man to lead New Jersey, let alone the country, his statements about the Black Lives Matter movement demonstrate the drastic gap in his understanding for the very real bias our nation’s communities of color face,” said the congresswoman.
But that cage match between congresswoman and governor played out with little resonance in those casino issues-dominant battleground districts in and around Atlantic City, where $2.1 million in LD2 added up to both Republican and Democratic incumbents favored to win reelection; and $1.2 in LD1 where a battling Assemblyman Sam Fiocci (R-1) looked like the most (or lone?) vulnerable incumbent in the state.
A GOP bus commanded by Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21) dutifully made the battleground rounds this weekend as late PAC ads gobbled up the airwaves, many of them paid for by the New Jersey Education Association against Bramnick’s candidates.
Pockets of interest turned up elsewhere, mostly related to 2017 and the developing gubernatorial contest, the handiwork of those Democratic hopefuls accelerated by Christie’s out-of-state presidential romp.
“Vote ‘Yes’ on Tuesday to the ballot question in Jersey City,” Fulop told his constituents this weekend in a Facebook post.
Politicos read politics in Fulop’s motives for moving the elections. His gubernatorial aspirations would put him in a June 2017 Democratic Primary, an easier focus prospect if he doesn’t have to worry about a May nonpartisan reelection bid.
“Since 2010, I have been a vocal supporter of moving the May municipal elections into the November elections,” wrote the mayor. “This way, instead of having multiple elections that cost extra dollars and have small turnout, we would have one larger election in November. This would help me fulfill my 2010 promise of making voting easier and saving money. This move would save $400,000 in taxpayer dollars and would increase voter turnout dramatically, as more people come out to vote in November. When I started this push in 2010, the Jersey Journal endorsed the idea.”
Fulop’s 2017 rival, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), meanwhile signaled his willingness to ramp up the guv race even before Tuesday, as the senate president attended a Livingston Democratic Party breakfast this weekend and jawed with power players Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and Essex County Democratic Chairman Leroy Jones.
Essex will pick the Democratic nominee, and Sweeney went into full-fledged ring-kissing mode early.
“Putting Essex First,” said DiVincenzo, molding his favorite countywide slogan into a public expression of Sweeney love.
Much of the bulk of the action of the cycle centered around LD38 and the meltdown of a Republican candidate whose troubles turned a competitive district into a likely win by the incumbent Democrats. The apparent self-inflicted mortal wounding of Anthony Cappola created a stir in LD11 and LD16, where Democrats said they could pick off either Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-11) or Assemblywoman Donna Simon (R16).
Just in case, the LD11 GOP hit back hard against PaC ads that popped up late in their district, while LD16 Republicans trotted out a comprehensive list of endorsements. The Ciattarelli-Simon endorsements cover both business groups and trade labor organizations, as well as Nurses and Realtors. The list includes the following: Operating Engineers Local 825, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), NJ Association of Realtors, Private Enterprise Political Action Committee (PENPAC), NE Regional Council of Carpenters, NJ State Building and Constructions Trades Council, The New Jersey Organization for a Better State (NEW JOBS PAC), IBEW Local 102, NJ State Nurses Association (INPAC) and NJ Food Council.
In Paterson, Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres got behind a recreation tax opposed by his 2014 rival Ward 6 Councilman Andre Sayegh, a collision that ultimately put the antagonists in the same working vineyard of the county party organization. Democrats want to spike Paterson turnout and stem any suburban effort the GOP can put together in a projected low turnout election; hence the virtue of a thorny local tax debate in the Silk City.
Finally, in Elizabeth, state Senator Ray Lesniak (D-20) and his local ally Mayor Chris Bollwage once again looked to seize on the momentum of past recent elections and – as part of an effort infused with PAC money – remove longtime incumbent Tony Monteiro and take control of the local Board of Education.
In the end, nothing would change.
Fulop would have another crack prior to 2017 at the referendum if it failed.
Lesniak would have another shot at turning the School Board.
And any one or two or three could lose, but Democrats would still maintain control of the Assembly, Christie would still badmouth them as a struggling candidate for president, and very few, despite a state and country in crisis – would – at least according to the polls – care.
“Something will surprise us,” insisted one hopeful politics junkie. “With turnout this low, disinterest this high, someone, somewhere won’t hit the projected marks, and will shock the state.”