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Early Musings on the New Jersey and Virginia Gubernatorial Races

Chris Christie
Written by Kevin Mooney

History informs us that the party holding the White House typically loses the governor’s races held the year after the presidential election.

In fact, the president’s party tends to lose seats at all levels of government over time.

This means the Democrats have the inside track in New Jersey and Virginia this year, but especially in New Jersey, a deep blue state that voted for Hillary Clinton. The negative approval ratings for Gov. Chris Christie are also complicating the terrain for the Republican gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey.

So, between the two states that have governor’s races this year, the Republicans clearly have a better shot in Virginia. Ed Gillespie, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, is widely viewed as the frontrunner. Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist, says the race to win the Republican nomination in the governor’s race is “probably Gillespie’s to lose.” There are three other Republicans challenging Gillespie in the primary, but the former RNC chair is operating at a substantial financial advantage. He had almost $2 million “in total cash on hand” at the beginning of this year, according to Sabato’s “Crystal Ball.” Moreover, Gillespie, who is a New Jersey native, ran a spirited race for U.S. Senate in 2014 when he nearly upset Sen. Mark Warner, the Democratic incumbent, despite being heavily outspent.

If Gillespie can unite the party, he’ll be formidable come November. Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D), the frontrunner for his party’s nomination, has a slight lead over Gillespie, but it’s early.

Back in Gillespie’s home state of N.J., Phil Murphy, a millionaire former Goldman Sachs banking executive, who is also a former U.S. ambassador to Germany, appears to have the inside track to win it all. Murphy is running in the Democratic primary against former U.S. Treasury official Jim Johnson, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), and state Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), among others. A recent poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University puts Murphy ahead of his primary challengers. Although most voters are undecided, Murphy has been winning crucial party endorsement at the county level and it now appears that he will cruise to the nomination.

The same FDU poll also puts Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno ahead of her primary challengers. She is as likable as she is articulate, but Guadagno will have difficulty separating herself from the governor. The great irony in all this is that she is not part of Christie’s inner circle and her name has not come up in connection with the ongoing “Bridgegate” scandal that scuttled Christie’s presidential ambitions. In a state where there are about 860,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, there is little margin for error for Guadagno. Other Republican candidates could argue that the party would have better chance of winning if it were entirely separated from the Christie administration. Also running in the Republican primary are: Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, Bergen County lawyer Dana Wefer, Nutley township commissioner Steven Rogers, and Ocean County businessman Joseph Rullo.

Rogers showed up on the campus of Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., on March 23 to attend a talk by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Georgia Republican who was the architect of the “Contract with America,” which helped deliver Republican congressional majorities in the 1994 elections.

Taking inspiration from Gingrich, Rogers said, in an interview, that his campaign “will change history” by winning an upset for the Republicans in the fall.

“The problem we have in Jersey is with the political establishment in both major parties,” he said. “Both parties have lost touch. But we are the outliers. We can bring reform to New Jersey.”

Right now, Rogers is polling in single digits, but, this early on, the numbers don’t mean very much. The Republican lieutenant governor has name recognition the other primary challengers do not. Moreover, the large block of unaffiliated voters in N.J., who determine the outcome in statewide elections, typically do not make up their minds until the final weeks of the campaign. So Rogers can take heart.

The Gingrich Revolution took hold a year after another Republican candidate for governor, Christine Todd Whitman, scored a major upset against a well-financed incumbent, Democratic Governor Jim Florio, back in 1993. Polls showed Whitman down by as much as double-digits for much of the campaign. So don’t write Rogers off!!


Kevin J. Mooney, Investigative Reporter for Political Storm in Washington D.C.

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About the author

Kevin Mooney

Kevin currently works as an investigative reporter with The Daily Signal, the multimedia news service of The Heritage Foundation. His work also appears in National Review, The Daily Caller, The Washington Examiner, The Washington Times and other D.C. based publications. Prior to joining The Daily Signal, Kevin worked as a reporter with The Pelican Institute in New Orleans, La. and The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity. Kevin specializes in reporting on the actions of organized labor, the environmental movement and other special interest groups. Kevin has studied abroad at Oxford University in England and has traveled throughout the United Kingdom. He has also visited Ireland, Spain, France, The Netherlands and Italy.