The coronation of a candidate

Back in March, I contacted my friend and conservative colleague Michael Illions (also known as the wrestler AJ Sparxx, who bodyslams liberals on a daily basis) to discuss the process by which New Jersey's Republican delegates would be allocated to the 10 primary contenders at the Republican National Convention. Aside from looking out for the interests of our preferred candidates for the Presidency, both Michael and I have worked hard on party-building (his organization, Conservatives with Attitude NJ, is one of the foremost grassroots groups around), and would like the presidential primary structured to augment our efforts.

Thus, we penned an editorial that appeared in the Asbury Park Press on March 22, explaining why a proportional awarding of delegates was the best thing for the GOP in the Garden State.

But nonetheless, supporters of Rudy Giuliani managed to convince a committee tasked with identifying a delegate-awarding process, to recommend to the Republican State Committee by a vote of 10-3, that the winner of the largest number of votes statewide should receive every available delegate from New Jersey (continued...).

(note: the Republican State Committee consists of 1 man and 1 woman from each of the 21 counties. These Committee members are elected once every 4 years - they appear on the Republican primary ballot alongside gubernatorial candidates. Thus, every registered Republican has a say in who represents his/her county in the Republican State Committee that makes decisions on matters like delegate allocation.)

This represents a dramatic change from New Jersey's precedent, and it caught national attention, in articles in National Journal, and most especially a column from noted conservative pundit Robert Novak, who said:

"Supporters of Rudy Giuliani for president are changing New Jersey's longtime proportional representation rules for allocating national convention delegates to winner-take-all, seeking a coup to give the former New York City mayor the lion's share of the state's 52 votes.

A June 14 meeting of New Jersey's Republican State Central Committee is expected to adopt a Feb. 5 presidential primary procedure giving the first-place finisher all three delegates in each of the state's 13 House districts, and the statewide leader all 13 at-large delegates. In the past, delegates were divided among candidates according to their share of the vote (as in 1980, when Ronald Reagan and George Bush split New Jersey).

Giuliani's Jersey coup is engineered by his liberal supporters in the state allied with David Von Savage, conservative Republican chairman of Cape May County (also backing him for president)."

For our part, Michael and I weren't about to go down quietly. We penned a letter, signed by about 100 Republican activists, which went to each member of the Republican State Committee arguing against the rule change and advocating a counter-proposal.

We also teamed up with libertarian activist and 2000 GOP Senate contender Murray Sabrin, who is supporting Ron Paul for President (a true conservative who was fighting for causes like cracking down on illegal immigration back when Mayor Rudy Giuliani was threatening to have US citizens deported for criticizing him), and authored another editorial, which appeared in today's Star Ledger.

In the piece, we recognize the reasons for Giuliani's enormous appeal, then explain why a winner-take-all scenario does not serve the overall party interests, and finally urge the State Committee to reject the standing proposal and instead approve a proportional plan like those that have allocated New Jersey's delegates in the past.
Editorial on the NJGOP Presidential Primary
Jersey GOP must avoid a coronation


About a decade ago, New Jersey Republicans fell in love. They watched a big city elect a fellow Republican as mayor, who got tough on crime, cleaned up the streets and did it all with a winning personality. When a great tragedy struck his city, he unified all of its residents and got the city back on its feet.

The mayor became a national hero, especially for Republicans. In subsequent years, he became nationally recognized as "Mr. Republican," campaigning coast to coast on behalf of GOP candidates.

Of course, that Republican leader was "America's Mayor," Rudy Giuliani, a man enormously popular among Garden State Republicans, who have venerated their neighbor from across the Hudson as a modern folk hero.

Now that Giuliani seeks support for the Republican presidential nomination, that enviable repute translates into hard political cur rency. Twelve of New Jersey's 21 Republican County chairmen have openly endorsed him, along with a whopping 300 Republican elected officials from throughout the state. Without a doubt, Giuliani stands poised to emerge from New Jersey's GOP primary with a strong mandate.

Nonetheless, Garden State Republicans should be aware of the potentially adverse impact that Giuliani's potency could have on our party. Since the Legislature voted to move the primary from June to February, New Jersey has finally become a state in which the presidential primary means something. Yet the all-important process by which the field of 10 candi dates earns delegates has yet to be determined.

A committee, assembled by Republican State Chairman Tom Wil son, has recommended by a vote of 10-3 that the candidate who emerges from the February primary with the largest number of votes statewide will get every delegate allotted to New Jersey at the Republican National Convention. In other words, it's winner-take-all.

In past presidential primaries, candidates earned a number of delegates proportional to their performance in the congressional districts. But under the current proposal, a candidate could lose six of the 13 congressional districts and still receive every delegate. That is an outright affront to the democracy of the convention process, which is designed to give each nominee a fair shot at gaining delegates.

Given the current proposal, no candidates would likely spend any time in New Jersey, recognizing the slim chances of beating Giuliani. The natural corollary suggests that he, too, would consider New Jersey a sure thing and spend his time in other states where he is less well known. If, however, our delegates were awarded proportional to the primary results, it would behoove all candidates to spend time courting New Jersey voters.

Ironically, the proposal even has a chance of backfiring on Giuliani supporters if a rock-star candidate like Fred Thompson or Newt Gingrich enters the race and sucks support away from other candidates. The consequences for New Jersey's impact on the Republican National Convention also could be disastrous if Giuliani's health falters again.

Students of history should further note that had this rule been in effect in 1976, Ronald Reagan would have received zero delegates at the Republican convention in his challenge to Gerald Ford. Even though he lost that year, he capti vated a base that would lead him to victory in 1980. Thus New Jersey's new proposed format would prohibit a candidate from building a support structure for 2012.

Advancing the primary to February was aimed to entice candi dates to campaign for New Jersey's votes, but this proposal would effectively end the race for GOP candidates other than Giuliani. The plan now goes to the Republican State Committee where a majority of the 42 members (one man and one woman from each county) must vote in favor of its passing.

Too often in this state, Republicans are told, even before we vote, who will win and that supporting any other candidate renders our vote meaningless. The high stakes of the 2008 presidential primary offer an ideal opportunity to ameliorate this obstructive dynamic.

Centuries ago, the kings of France would travel to the Cathedral of Reims to be anointed with a sacred oil, symbolizing their divine right to rule the nation. But the dust of Ground Zero, hallowed as it is, is no oil of Reims. Giuliani is a proven leader with a solid track record, but in America, and in New Jersey, we have elections, not coronations.

We urge the state committee to protect the rights of the Garden State voters. They should reject the proposal and instead approve a proportional awarding of delegates. It is the right thing for the Republican Party in New Jersey.

George Ajjan ran for Congress in 2004. Michael Illions heads the grassroots Republican organization Conservatives with Attitude NJ. Murray Sabrin, a Ramapo College professor, unsuccessfully sought the GOP Senate nomination in 2000.

O --- This article first appeared in The Star Ledger on June 4, 2007.