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.