NORTH BERGEN, New Jersey – A state both corporate media and establishment Republicans have insisted on writing off as a Democratic lost cause firmly asserted its swing identity this week.
Jack Ciattarelli (R) likely has a prolonged legal battle ahead of him that will not result in his assumption of the governorship of New Jersey, but the lesson he taught his own party is more important than his own political fate: go into the deepest blue urban areas and treat voters with respect. Those voters, tired of Republicans not offering a meaningful choice, will listen.
Ciattarelli shocked the country on Tuesday by giving incumbent Phil Murphy (D) the scare of his life, racking up votes in parts of the state that were not a problem when Murphy ran the first time. Murphy is a Massachusetts native allegedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars who spent his entire tenure stripping New Jerseyans of their basic rights – the right of assembly, the right to an education, rights of physical integrity – through executive orders and berating his constituents as “knuckleheads” while doing it (as if Jersey folk haven’t heard worse). Few politicians have done more to alienate the people they represent than Murphy.
Murphy won because the governor before him, Chris Christie (R), was somehow even more disrespectful to voters. Christie became notorious for wantonly insulting random residents in public. He closed out his term with two scandals: “Bridgegate,” in which he allegedly trapped hundreds of residents in a traffic disaster as some sort of revenge plot, and the Jersey Shore debacle in which he shut down the state’s public beaches, then proceeded to use them himself.
He stole our beaches and trapped us in our cars. Jersey voters would have voted for a deep-dish “pizza” over anything to do with Christie.
Star-Ledger flew a plane over the New Jersey beach & got pictures of Christie and family sunning on an empty shore. https://t.co/mxoB4Od0hn
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) July 2, 2017
The New Jersey GOP chose to nominate Christie’s lieutenant governor to run against Murphy. Notably, the alternative was Jack Ciattarelli.
Ciattarelli, perhaps burned by his loss to former Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno in the last primaries, ran what can be most charitably described as a dirty primary campaign. He sent voters campaign mailers depicting opponent Hirsh Singh as an untrustworthy, weird foreigner while quoting coverage observing that Ciattarelli “looks and sounds like New Jersey.” Singh ran as a conservative unashamed to praise the successes of New Jersey resident Donald Trump, for which the Ciattarelli campaign branded him a lunatic.
After the primaries, however, something clicked. Ciattarelli rejected the typical Jersey Republican path of addressing only the state’s woeful taxes and talking about business development (though he did do those things). He embraced social issues – particularly promising to empower parents against Murphy’s proposals to allow minors to have abortions without parental consent and against gender ideology studies for young children in schools – in multiple languages. He published policy proposals to address issues that tend to affect communities of color, like food deserts and improved urban planning. He even published videos using the Hindi honorific suffix ji while discussing Mahatma Gandhi, after how his primary campaign treated Hirsh Singh!
His engagement did not stop with campaign ads. Ciattarelli showed up to New Jersey’s bluest, least white communities, with a clear Republican message. The candidate was a guest of honor – or so his sash reads – at the North Hudson Hispanic parade on Bergenline Avenue, an area typically undrivable on summer Sundays due to Hispanic parades and otherwise unnavigable for those who only speak English.
What New Jersey needs is a real leader!!! No more special interests and lets get these taxes under control.
Posted by Jeff Culp on Sunday, October 3, 2021
This afternoon, greeting our community and celebrating our culture with soon-to-be Governor Jack Ciattarelli at the Hispanic State Parade! 🌎 🇺🇸 #Jack4NJ #IBackJack
More prominently, Ciattarelli campaigned in Newark – New Jersey’s largest city and the definition of “lost cause Democrat stronghold.” Ciattarelli campaigned there a lot. He was there this week.
Out in Newark this afternoon with Monique Headen Bruce and her great team handing out free PPE! Thanks to all who made this possible. The fight to Fix NJ is on! pic.twitter.com/oZWrpWo7JL
— Jack Ciattarelli (@Jack4NJ) November 21, 2020
My great pleasure to attend and speak at the 7th annual New Jersey Jewish Business Alliance Luncheon in Newark. pic.twitter.com/JzBXD5uq2q
— Jack Ciattarelli (@Jack4NJ) August 3, 2021
Wow – what a night in Newark! Great to be with so many New Jersey Devils fans.
— Jack Ciattarelli (@Jack4NJ) November 1, 2021
During a campaign stop in late October, Ciattarelli addressed the fact that his consistent presence in the city made him stand out among those of his own party. His remarks should serve as a template for all conservative candidates in every blue state in the country.
“Republicans, to win statewide office, have to go places Republicans typically don’t go. I’m happy to do it,” Ciattarelli told the local outlet TAPinto Newark. “And each time I do, I find that I’m received with open arms. [emphasis added] Today was a great day.”
Voters and local political observers noticed his presence, especially in light of the stark contrast that Murphy’s isolated campaign presented. As Fred Snowflack of Insider NJ detailed:
Murphy did something odd for a politician. He didn’t really mix all that much with average voters.
He had many staged events. There was a rally in Perth Amboy with teachers and a few in Newark with the Hispanic and LGBTQ communities. There were also a few events with unions.
And then, of course, there was the celebrity tour. Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Jill Biden, Amy Klobuchar and to use a common Murphy quote – “a cast of thousands” – trekked to New Jersey in hopes of pumping up Democratic turnout.
Some of these spectacles were fun – the Bernie rally certainly was – but the reality was that just about all the people attending them were going to vote for the governor anyway.
In contrast, Snowflack noted, Ciattarelli met “‘real’ people.”
“He was at diners, pizza joints, coffee shops and all sorts of festivals and fairs. Sure, local Republicans would work hard to whip up a crowd, but these forays also enabled Ciattarelli to interact with probably thousands and thousands of regular folk,” he noted.
Ciattarelli joked about Murphy’s elitist approach to campaigning during a speech on Tuesday night.
“I’ve been recently asked repeatedly by the journalists, ‘Jack, he’s bringing in so-and-so, he’s bringing in this person, he’s bringing in that person. Who are you bringing in?’ And I very simply say, ‘I’m bringing in Jack Ciattarelli, that’s who I’m bringing in,” he told the vibrant crowd at his campaign headquarters. “I don’t need a surrogate. I don’t need celebrities. I don’t need former presidents. All I need for is for the people of New Jersey to listen to the facts.”
In true Jersey style, he then announced that 325 pizzas awaited the crowd following his speech, to raucous applause.
Consistently engaging voters that Democrats take for granted creates the impression that the Republican candidate is secure enough in his or her base that they are going on the offensive. Murphy certainly felt the pressure, as he was in Union City, the heart of deep-blue North Hudson, on Monday.
— Phil Murphy (@PhilMurphyNJ) November 2, 2021
If Murphy survives Republican Party challenges to the wide array of election shenanigans documented in Essex (where Newark is) and Hudson Counties, it will be because of the local Democrat machines operating in these areas. Those machines are over 100 years old and fed by the hard work of local party bosses who, despite their notoriety, invest heavily in education, recreation, and popular social programs. They don’t take their constituents for granted like Murphy did. They also notably use the machine to routinely crush radical progressive ideological challenges fed by the national narrative but widely rejected at home. Without the machine, progressives would win primaries only to find no meaningful Republican opposition in the general.
National pundits may argue that Ciattarelli’s defeat in the aforementioned Hudson and Essex counties is a sign that the fight is hopeless, that conservatives should abandon their homes in blue states and move to Florida. The numbers say otherwise. Ciattarelli received, as of press time, almost 30,000 votes in Hudson County, 10,000 more than Guadagno in 2017. He similarly beat Guadagno by another 10,000 votes in Essex.
In Bergen County, the county immediately to the north of Hudson, Ciattarelli nearly tied Murphy. He received about 30,000 more votes there than Guadagno and only 12,000 fewer than Murphy.
At press time, with 91 percent of the vote in, Murphy is beating Ciattarelli by 35,718 votes.
Blue city voters care about the same issues as everyone else and often fail to turn out for Republicans because Republicans are invisible to them. Ciattarelli chose not to be invisible and, with minimal national GOP support and despite a flawed primary campaign, almost took down one of America’s most socialist governors. His example is one conservatives coast to coast should follow.