With a new Monmouth poll released Wednesday showing Donald Trump maintaining a 35 percent lead in South Carolina’s Republican primary, a campaign whose success seemed to hinge on sheer entertainment value has gone further than anyone would have predicted months ago. With the anti-establishment moment in presidential politics playing out on the national stage, will South Jersey’s Republican incumbents down the ballot stand to gain or to lose?
Burlington County Republican Chairman Bill Layton told PolitickerNJ last week that he is predicting massive turnout from previously unregistered right-leaning independents, similar to the 2008 primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama its allure for voters who might have sat out a less volatile race. In New Jersey’s second congressional district, that kind of outcome could tilt the scales against historically unassailable Republican Congressman Frank LoBiondo?
LoBiondo will face a new Democratic challenger from software engineer Dave Cole. The longtime incumbent made quick work of his last challenger in 2014, but Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Jim Schroeder said that Trump’s prominence this year could lead to gains for the party down the ballot if Trump’s checkered relationship with Atlantic City and appeal to fringe voters hangs over the rest of the Republican field.
“Certainly in our area there are many many people who are familiar with the problems local businesses had with Donald Trump when he was building the Taj Mahal,” Schroeder said, referring to the eminent domain use and subsequent bankruptcies that marked the Taj’s rise and fall in the city. “Whether that has an effect down ballot, I don’t know. But people are very aware of those problems and those shortcomings.
“There appears to be an angry electorate, and I do believe that some of his success is attributable to causal voters who are angry,” Schroeder continued. “If he’s the Republican nominee, I think he will have some effect down here.”
Though Schroeder’s Republican counterpart Keith Davis agreed that it is still too early to make a clear prediction about Trump’s impact and which party stands to gain from a spike in voter turnout, he said that any destabilizing impact from a Trump nomination would shine a light on the area’s elected officials at all levels and on both sides of the aisle.
“He blames Frank Lobiondo for the high unemployment and high foreclosure rate in Atlantic County, which is kind of curious,” Davis said of Schroeder’s statement on Cole’s congressional run. “If Frank LoBiondo is responsible for that, then I guess Senator Jim Whelan is equally as responsible for those horrific economic conditions too.”
Even Michael Cooke, a Toms River attorney weighing a run against sitting congressman Tom MacArthur in the third district, said that he won’t count on Trump’s popularity helping any one side if an unprecedented number of previously unregistered New Jerseyans go to the polls.
“How do you predict the Trump effect,” Cooke asked. “He probably can’t predict it.”