Incompetence and victory are not mutually exclusive

Nor are competence and failure. This is the lesson to be learned from the 2007 elections in New Jersey, and something to keep in mind when listening to the self-serving rhetoric of party spinmeisters.

The top-line results (see PolitickerNJ, the Star Ledger, and The Record):
  • Republicans pick up one seat in the State Senate (Jennifer Beck), but lose 2 in South Jersey, for a net loss of 1 - Senate is now 23-17 Democrat majority
  • Republicans pick up 2 seats in the State Assembly, but still down 48-32
  • Substantial gains for Republicans on the local level statewide
  • Ballot questions about stem-cell research and "rebates" were soundly defeated

In my home county of Passaic, where I spent election night, the room was full of people looking for silver linings. Yes, O'Toole, Russo, and Rumana won by a crushing 2:1 margin, ditto Jay Webber, Alex DeCroce, and Joe Pennacchio in District 26 - but that was expected, those are video game campaigns. We did see a major victory happen in Ringwood, but there were disappointments in Haledon (where Ayman Mamkej's strategy could have won us a council seat had it not been for spiteful Republicans loyal to Peter Murphy running as independents) and West Milford, where we lost the mayoralty by less than 100 votes.

But that is relatively minor stuff: the big issue is that Jerry Holt did not manage to defeat Pat Lepore and gain Republican representation on the Freeholder Board. And by all logic he should have, but he lost by about 3,500 votes. Here is what a friend of mine, a Democrat insider, sent me right after the election:

"Word all day was that the turn out in Paterson was low. This scared me because at the same time we heard numbers in Wayne and West Milford were high. Until the final tallies came in from Little Falls, Clifton, Wayne and West Milford which showed that [Terry] Duffy and Lepore were either ahead or competitive, I was getting ready for Freeholder Holt. This was the Republicans' best hope to get a seat, as next year and the year after are both high turnout years."

Paterson turned out almost 25% less than it did in 2003, the analogous year to 2007 - while overall countywide turnout dropped off by much less than that. That means we should have started with a huge advantage. I have not yet studied the numbers to know the difference in vote-getting between the Assembly and Freeholder candidates in towns like Ringwood and Wayne, for example, to speculate what went wrong. (continued...)

Obviously, the reflexive explanation for yet another disappointing loss is to blame it on the divisions sewn by the former regime (where were the 300 people that supposedly joined the so-called "Passaic County Young Republicans" Chapter - and why didn't they at least bring victory in West Milford?) How was turnout in Totowa by the way? But this is just an easy answer that doesn't address shortcomings of the organization that persist. We are still left to answer why more people voted against the Rebate question and the Stem Cell bonding than voted for Joe Stinziano for Freeholder.

Still, if the old goons think that Chairman Scott Rumana is now a wounded bird and they can pick up the pieces, they're dead wrong. True, he would have been beyond reproach had Holt carried the day, but the divisive tactics employed in Haledon and West Milford will not be lost on the County Committee when it comes time to vote on the chairmanship in 2009.

In Bergen, Rob Ortiz wisely sent out a press release detailing many of the wins on the local level. The only thing he seems to have omitted from his list of successes was the fact that the air in Bergen County is comprised of 20% oxygen. Nevertheless, this, at a minimum, is a good defensive maneuver against any plot to dump him in June, which is probably being hatched by a faction loyal to the Freeholder candidates, who I must say very unfairly got the cold shoulder since Day One of the Ortiz Administration at the BCRO. They, especially Paul Duggan, worked their bloody tails off and might have been victorious had the money wasted on the BCRO rent and utilities been diverted to their campaign, spearheaded by my fellow New Jersey Ron Paul supporter, monetary expert Andy Gause. Not to mention, if Anne Estabrook had maxed out for 2007 at $37,000. But then again, it's not like the intent was to sell her the BCRO or anything...

As far as statewide trends go, Steve Lonegan recovered from the embarrassing illegal immigrant/law enforcement collective bargaining fiasco that enveloped him several weeks ago (frankly, some people had written him off as a laughing stock - but I think that will now reverse). He has got to be glowing after an absolute trouncing of 2 of the major ballot questions he campaigned heavily against, devoting a great deal of his time for the past 2 months. If a Democrat hack like Julie Roginsky is quoted in an NJGOP election night press release as saying:

"People are fed up. And they are fed up with borrowing...people obviously are not happy with the fiscal situation. These public questions going down is the most significant outcome of this election. If you saw a statewide trend this is it, because people are fed up...I'll tell you when people voting against property tax relief and stem cell research - which overwhelmingly people are craving - in favor of fiscal responsibility that to me is an astounding message they are sending to Trenton today..."

...then it's a great day to be Steve Lonegan. His fate for 2009 will depend on how he plays his cards in the 2008 Presidential Primary, but more speculation on that later.

All in all, this year is being positioned as a big Republican win. Yes, there were some good and well-deserved results - as well as other results, less than palatable, that were undeserved. We as a party did not hammer home as consistent and concise a message statewide as we needed to. A few months ago, Rick Shaftan mentioned that his polling showed huge opportunities on the tax issue alone for Republicans. But nowhere in the party's message was the public even reminded about the Democrats' increasing the sales tax from 6% to 7% last year - an omni-present and prominent NJGOP plank even during the Christie Whitman years that conservatives love to hate. So on this point, I tend to agree with Michael "The Commish" Illions from CWA, who summed it up by saying:

"the NJGOP message didn't win, the candidates did."

I hate to sound too pessimistic, because there is one very strong positive outcome of this election, which was foreseen but strongly accentuated on election night - the new, younger, hipper State Senate class. The likes of Bill Baroni, Jennifer Beck, Joe Pennacchio and Kevin O'Toole are going to have a lot to say, and I don't suppose Jon Corzine is terribly happy these days about that, minority status or not. I saw O'Toole's victory speech on Tuesday night and let me tell you - this guy is kickin' butt and taking' numbers. Having veto power over Newark politics doesn't hurt.

Just prior to results coming in, one of his staffers said, "well, we hope to stay above 60%." Then BOOM. He won by a 2:1 margin, and his confidence shone through. The exact opposite of the June victory where the victory margin was slimmer than hoped.

On a final note, I want to congratulate Mark Meyerowitz for putting up a good fight in District 27. Plus, I am pleased to report that Springfield has a new councilman in the person of Ziad Shehady, a 23-year-old Arab-American Republican who is a military veteran and serves as a legislative aide in District 21. Keep your eyes on this future leader. Shehady, Beck, Kyrillos and hopefully more to come - eat your heart out, Gerry Cardinale.