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Saturday, May 07, 2005

Why Losers Win and New Jersey (Almost) Always Loses

While New Jersey Dems are busy breaking their arms patting their own back for the all-but shoe-in bid for Governor by Jon Corzine, Republicans are having a tough primary battle (take a look at the court battle it’s causing). Ordinarily, this would be a good thing. After all, a divided Republican Party should bode well for Democrats.

Maybe not. I don’t think anyone really expects to beat Jon Corzine. If they do; they’re dumb. Not only does he have the support of every single Democrat in the state, but he also has a pretty big bank account that he is perfectly willing to use for his own benefit. Only a demagogue or someone bent on political destruction would want to face Jon Corzine this November.

So maybe they aren’t really facing him at all. If (when) Corzine wins; then New Jersey will have an open Senate seat to fill. Conventional wisdom says that whoever he picks to fill that seat will then have the advantage of incumbency to hold onto the seat. My personal feeling is that six months – which is basically all whoever gets the seat will have between taking office and running for re-election – is not enough to build incumbents advantage, but it is enough time to stink of favoritism and machine politics.

There is also a legitimate political strategy called, “running to lose before you run to win”. The idea is that you run a high profile challenge that you are sure to lose so you can run a lower profile race immediately following that builds on the momentum from the first one. At least one Republican hopeful, Doug Forrester, already ran a pretty good campaign for the Senate only a few years ago and may have a bit of momentum from that race. Only the last minute substitution of then-retired Senator Frank Lautenberg stopped him from an easy win. Running for Governor and losing will set him up to chase the Senate seat by claiming he has twice been cheated by the Democratic machine.

The big problem with Corzine running an unopposed campaign is that he now becomes the only Democrat with a state-wide winning name. Next year, a well-seasoned campaigner from the Republicans (probably either Forrester or Bret Shundler) will again slug their way through the primary to face off against – who? Several of New Jersey’s Democratic Representatives are expected to explore a run, but no one is currently building state-wide support. Forrester and Shundler are already household names in New Jersey politics, but what about Rothman, Pallone, Holt, or Menendez? I’m guessing that few out of their own districts know them.

The same is even truer for the smaller districts from which state Assemblymen and Senators are elected. I like everything I know about State Senator Fred Madden (who is related to me by a couple of marriages), but I’m not sure anyone else in Hudson County has heard of him. I'm pretty sure he doesn't have the millions of dollars in his personal bank account to launch a Senatorial campaign. Without a Lieutenant Governor position, there simply is no real line of succession, either literally or politically. This situation actually serves the Parties' County Chairs (where much of the corruption of New Jersey politics is known to originate) but not the people of New Jersey.

New Jersey’s odd year state elections law makes it easy for a political opportunist to take advantage of the “run to lose so you can run to win” strategy. However, it also limits it to people who have access to lots of money. Running a state campaign is expensive, especially in New Jersey where television time has to be bought in both Philadelphia and New York City. Running one year after year until you finally wear out the opposition doesn’t ensure that the person with the best ideas wins. Rather, it almost guarantees that the person with the most money wins.

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