The Arango Factor: In 1985 He Won on Kean’s Coattails. Is there a 2016 Counterpart?

Hudson County Republican Chairman Jose Arango.

Hudson County Republican Chairman Jose Arango. Jose Arango

A post Democratic National Convention Monmouth University poll showed 46% of registered voters supporting Hillary Clinton and 34% backing Donald Trump in this year’s presidential contest. New Jersey polls consistently show Clinton even farther ahead of Trump (a pre-convention Fairleigh Dickinson Poll put the race at 52-31% Clinton), causing Republicans here no end of angst about the prospect of down ballot mayhem.

If one entertains the potential for a GOP meltdown as a consequence of Trump, the possibility increases of someone out there running for office becoming this year’s Jose Arango. Now the chairman of the Hudson County Republican Party and chairman of the county Republican chairs, the affable Arango won a 1985 Hudson County assembly seat in the 33rd District on the strength of then Gov. Thomas Kean’s considerable coattails and a mid-80s Ronald Reagan revolution that swamped Democrats in their formerly secure vestibules.

Arango and his running mate (Ron Dario) respectively squeaked out a 26.9/27.9% victory over Democratic incumbents Rob Ranieri and Mario Hernandez (23.8/21.4%), who two years earlier – without Kean at the top of the ticket – had won comfortably 33-17%.

The thought this year is that if Trump – playing a national-sized version of failed 1985 gubernatorial candidate Peter Shapiro – has chilled a sufficient number of his Republican brethren, Clinton can catapult some unlikely combatant to sudden prominence.

In Arango’s case, he had more than simply Kean’s enormous popularity going for him, and Kean’s ambitions to turn Hudson into Republican country. He also had Reagan riding a national wave of goodwill.

Clinton, of course, is not popular.

She’s not Kean.

She’s not Reagan.

A series of weekend stories in various publications noted the routine lack of enthusiasm greeting the parachuting orange pantsuit-wearing pol at her own rallies around the country. The contrast with Trump’s NASCAR-like atmospherics remains that one (very wobbly) piece of evidence political analysts point to as the reason why the billionaire real estate tycoon could pull an upset. His base is in Gladiator opening scene northern barbarian horde mode, and Clinton’s is flat.

But before dismissing the Arango factor in this case, consider the fact that New Jersey remains one of Clinton’s most bankable states. As we have exhaustively noted at Observer PolitickerNJ, Bill Clinton turned New Jersey blue. Prior to him, you’d have to go back to LBJ’s victory over Barry Goldwater to find a Democratic presidential candidate who carried the Garden State in the general election. Post Bill Clinton, every Democratic prez candidate has won. Also consider the lack of deep Republican support (certainly in the establishment) for Trump here. The Trump-backing Governor Chris Christie, to say the least, is also not Tom Kean. His job approval rating continues to sag in the mid 20s. So even if Clinton radiates little love nationally, she’s long had a sturdy foothold here, going back to 1992 when she routinely campaigned for her husband in New Jersey. Despite all the Clinton negatives, given the history this could be one of those states prepped for a down ballot shakeup.

If that’s the case, then who will receive this year’s Arango Award?

In a conversation earlier today with a longtime Democratic Party insider and old school Hudson player who originated the question, the name Josh Gottheimer of Bergen County – a former Bill Clinton speechwriter – quickly emerged as a likely candidate. He’s running in CD5 where incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett of Wantage beats up his hyped opponents every two years despite Dems’ intentions to do him in.  Two years ago, financially well-heeled challenger Roy Cho was a very credible candidate, whom Garrett defeated 55-43%. That margin of victory, incidentally, corresponded with Garrett’s 2012 win over the less-than-Cho heralded Adam Gussen.

But Gottheimer’s running a very strong and well organized campaign, the best we’ve seen.

In addition to Clinton outpacing Trump, the CD5 Democratic challenger enjoys the advantages (over past contenders) of compacted missteps by Garrett, including the hangover effect from his resistance on movement conservative grounds of federal Hurricane Sandy funding and reported homophobic comments, a well-organized Bergen County Democratic Committee, a statewide Democratic Party almost wholly focused on the race, impressive financial resources (Garrett’s anti-gay comments took a chunk out of his fundraising; he had $2.7 million in the bank at the end of June, compared to $2.5 million for his Democratic counterpart), and a warpaint-wearing, constantly nationally auditioning U.S. Senator Cory Booker on the campaign and fundraising trail.

Is it a long-shot?

Of course.

A Republican as held the congressional seat here going back to the early 1930s, and the towns all historically trend GOP.

This cycle is so volatile, for all we know the seesaw could spring suddenly and eject one of these two prez contestants from the field and rearrange the contest.

But we suspect a significant number of dynamics align this year to make Gottheimer the most likely beneficiary.

If it happens, though, he should be forewarned.

1985’s Republican upstart lasted exactly one term in office as an assemblyman before a spooked Bob Menendez, eager to retain his base, trampolined Arango into oblivion, and Hudson Democrats restored order.

The Arango Factor: In 1985 He Won on Kean’s Coattails. Is there a 2016 Counterpart?