NJGOP: Why we lost, why we'll do better next time

The Record today published my post-election wrap up piece, entitled Why we lost, why we'll do better next time.

Why we lost, why we'll do better next time
by GEORGE AJJAN - Sunday, December 3, 2006

Though most of us are progeny of ordinary folk who contributed to society simply by virtue of their moral character and work ethic, a small few descend not merely from honest hard-working individuals, but persons with the vision, energy and resources to channel those admirable qualities into notable careers of public service.

Imagine how blessed any of us would be to count among our forebears representatives, senators and even governors. And if we chose to follow that legacy, we can only think how eager we would be to tell fellow citizens what an honor it would be to serve them as the latest in a long, distinguished line of worthy public officials.

It is quite a compelling and even inspiring proposition. In fact, that very opportunity existed for one of the candidates in the recent election. But sadly, in his quest for a seat in the United States Senate, New Jersey voters never heard such a positive, personal message from Thomas H. Kean Jr.

He never aired a commercial showing the portraits of his ancestors who have served the Garden State with distinction for generations.

He never told the voters: "I am proud to say that I am from the family Kean, and that means a great deal to me – as your senator, I will do honor not only to you my fellow citizens, but also to the legacy of my ancestors who faithfully served your parents and grandparents before me."

Name appeal

He never employed the most basic and yet most effective tactic in his entire electoral arsenal: the appeal of his very name.

Instead we got a hollow, negative message reflecting not only poor judgment on Kean's part, but indicative of the larger ills that have befallen the New Jersey Republican Party.

As we have seen repeatedly in our lackluster statewide campaigns, including Kean's most recent one, the NJGOP lacks direction, principles and energy. That is why we lose every year.

When we don't have consensus ourselves on the principles for which we stand, how can we expect local activists to show any enthusiasm for the GOP? And most of all, how can expect voters to follow us when our message is not only unfocused, but decidedly negative?

We have gone too far astray and now need to make systemic changes to revive the NJGOP.

The four courses of action advocated herein represent a starting point to rebuild and reinvigorate, so that Republicans can begin to win once again in New Jersey:

1) Can the "campaign in a can." Overly negative advertisements do not compel voters, but instead turn them off, even loyal Republicans. We need to immediately fire the incompetent consultants who design such campaigns, perpetually demonstrating that they are less interested in winning elections, and more interested in pleasing the right "insiders" so that they can get overpaid to do the same pathetic job running next year's losing race.

2) Change leadership. That is not meant as an attack on Republican State Chairman Tom Wilson. In fact, Wilson's political instincts are excellent. No doubt, he was banging his head against the wall in frustration on numerous occasions over the past year as Kean's campaign moved from blunder to blunder. Wilson should have been the one running the Kean campaign, not doing party building. If he had, the Republican Party might still be in control of the U.S. Senate come January.

Only one person has the political savvy, winning personality, fund-raising ability, grassroots skills, and broad-based appeal to turn the NJGOP around, and that is none other than former Jersey City mayor and gubernatorial candidate Bret Schundler.

Two years in advance of the 2007 Assembly and Senate elections, he was plotting for Republican victory and proposed that every elected Republican official – even school board members and municipal council members – descend upon Trenton to launch a plan for property tax reform amendments to the state Constitution.

Schundler sees the value in a unity of purpose, and that is the only way to construct a Republican message that will win over New Jersey voters.

3) Primary out "dead weight" incumbents. Every complacent, unenergetic, and especially unprincipled Republican state legislator needs to be challenged in a GOP primary and ousted. The state Senate in particular has more than its share of wily curmudgeons who contribute absolutely nothing to party-building activities.

Instead, we need passionate, vibrant Republicans to fill those "safe" seats, who will devote their energies not to self-enhancing deal-making with Democrats, but to helping GOP candidates in more challenging races throughout the state.

Elected Republicans have an obligation to breathe new life into local GOP organizations for success at the grassroots level, which is essential to winning back New Jersey.

4) Get Hispanics on board. Instead of complaining ad nauseam about America's massive illegal immigration problem (which unfortunately is not going away anytime soon), conservative activists need to have a look at New Jersey's demographic trend and redirect some of their energy into a comprehensive effort to integrate Hispanics into the Republican Party.

Last hope

If we do not do this, the NJGOP simply has no hope of ever winning in the Garden State in the long run, even if we execute flawlessly the other three actions suggested above.

Currently, much of what passes for Hispanic outreach is ad-hoc, and amounts to spitting into the wind. To put it bluntly, too many "pedigreed" Republicans seem to view these efforts as little more than a cute little diversion from country club ennui. It's time to invest in a massive recruitment drive, coordinating with Republicans from other states to replicate techniques that have succeeded in areas with large Hispanic populations. We need to start learning about the urban neighborhoods where these untapped voters live, instead of just driving around them.

The poor campaigns Republicans have run over the past several years notwithstanding, the notion that New Jersey is forever a "blue state" is ludicrous.

With unity of purpose, strong leadership, and principled candidates, we can construct a winning message and a positive campaign that will bring the Garden State back into the Republican column.

George Ajjan, a Republican activist and former candidate for the House of Representatives, can be reached at george@ajjan.com. He resides in Clifton.

O --- This article first appeared in The Record on December 3, 2006.


Anonymous said...

Bret Schundler would be an excellent choice to head the NJGOP.

Part of the problem in NJ is that those who represent the far right of the Republican Party (groups like GOPUSA) continually insist that the NJGOP must nominate candidates who are pro-life, against civil unions, for the death penalty, and so on. Not only do they want far right candidates to run, they want them to run on these issues specifically! No candidate with such stands will ever win in a state like NJ, even among the states' GOP voters who, for the most part, tend to be more moderate/libertarian in thier views.

pjblogger62 said...

How about acting like REAL REPUBLICANS for a change and act on lowre taxes ,less goverment and free markets ,this RINO thing has been rejected by the nation in this election as it alwasy fails in New Jerkey

Anonymous said...

In keeping with that libertarian Republican philosophy - "lower taxes, less goverment and free markets" - the NJGOP should focus on issues like cutting taxes further, eliminating the IRS and instituting a Fair Tax or Flat Tax, shrinking the size of gov't. in Trenton and Washington, property rights in the wake of the SCOTUS Kelo decision, free trade, homeland security, school choice, etc. and stop thier obsession with amending the Constitution to ban whatever social cause happens to be on thier radar at the time. There is no doubt that Barry Goldwater spun in his grave every time people like Rick Santorum opened thier mouths on these issues. If the GOP wants to be truly consistent defenders of individual rights, they would not only stay out of your wallet, but out of your personal business as well.

George Ajjan said...

A number of readers sent me feedback on this article by email, so I will post those here anonymously.

The first is from a Republican operative in Michigan whom I met during the 2004 race, who writes:

"Doesn't it seem strange to you that here in Michigan we keep giving key behind-the-scenes political strategy positions to the same people year after year because they are 'entitiled' to them and we continue to lose?

I think we need to go straight to the root of the problem within our own party. Just a thought!"

George Ajjan said...

another piece of feedback. This one is from a reader identified as "a registered Democrat who is sick of where the liberalism of the current Democrat party is taking this country."

"The primary reason that we lost is very simple - the Republican 'insiders' put forward a RINO (Republican In Name Only). First, Tom Kean indicated that he was in support of John McCain. That might have been the death knell for his candidacy, it was for me. Second, he decided to actin a manner similar to Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island - anti-administration on many policies. I couldn't vote for Menendez because of his background so I voted for Tom Kean, but did it while holding my nose.

It is comical to read your references to Bret Schundler. The reason that he lost was because he defeated the candidate that was supported by Republican 'insiders' and therefore the support that he needed was not available. Yes, there was token support but not the support that really mattered. The same thing happened in the last gubernatorial election.

I hope that the Republican 'insiders' at NJGOP are happy with the Democrat Senators and Governor that we now have. If they don't wake up, and quickly, the Republicans in New Jersey will be as inconsequential as the Republicans in New York. What is needed is for the NJGOP to espouse more Conservative principals and fewer middle-of-the-road policies. As someone observed, the only things that are found in the middle-of-the-road are a yellow stripe and road kill. And, the last election shows both - the yellow stripe of cowardliness of the Republicans and most of whom are now road kill."

George Ajjan said...

this feedback was from an African-American reader.

"I am responding to your opinion as to the ways in which the Republican Party can do better next time. I am an African American female who would consider voting for a Republican candidate, if they were able to articulate their views on public policy, and maintained a campaign that was issue driven as opposed to negative character bashing. I was a little disappointed that you didn't advocate a recruitment of minorities in general, as opposed to Hispanics alone. As you know, black Americans have be a part of this country for well over 200 years, and it was a Republican president that emancipated the slaves. Many black Americans, especially upper middle class blacks, participated and were active members of the Republican party nationally until the late 1940's and early 1950's. I am not well versed in what happened to change the situation around, but I would suggest that the Republicans try to incorporate views from other minority communities (Asian and Black)as well as the Hispanic community to 'bring the Garden State back into the Republican column.'"

Arthur Soto said...


As always, great job with the article. Thank you for supporting the party and waving the GOP flag.

I agree with most of your assessments of the NJGOP particularly the need of increasing the visibility of the GOP in the Latino community. Time and again, I have heard Republican party leaders mention this but then they never follow up with substantive action. The NJGOP cannot pay the Latino community lip-service and empty promises and expect Latinos to vote for Republican candidates especially when you have GOP campaign literature spouting subtle xenophobia. It would be VERY dangerous to ignore Latinos particularly when they are the majority voting bloc in the inner city. Just take a look at the election canvassing reports in Paterson, Passaic and Prospect Park and you'll see that what I'm saying is true.

I would add that its important to do this while not neglecting our base and reaching out as well to disaffected Black and Arab democrats. We need to reach out to minority voters and work together with local leaders on developing a long-term relationship with these communities. We cannot do this half-heartedly or only around election time. Only a sustained effort in these communities will see results at the ballot box...

Again, thanks George for your ideas and Happy Holidays to everyone. Let's unite to see victory in 2007!

Arthur Soto
Chairman, Passaic Parking Authority

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