By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay
As New Jersey recovers from Hurricane Irene, very few people realize that an even greater storm looms on the horizon. While this rapidly approaching event won’t fell trees, cut power, nor flood the streets, it will likely be one of the most heated occurrences in recent New Jersey history: the 2013 gubernatorial election will be a crucial test, the result of which will determine whether or not Garden State voters are content to follow Governor Chris Christie to the right, or whether they will vocally reject his conservative policies and choose a more progressive leader.
While it may seem premature to begin a discussion pertaining to an event that is still two years away, one must realize that the Democratic Party has already begun prepping itself for the upcoming show-down. Indeed, attempts to energize the party base against incumbent Governor Chris Christie have been in the works for some time now. And yet, the money, blogging, and rallying that Democratic leaders have already begun will be rendered useless if they can’t find a formidable candidate to challenge the Republican Governor.
The problem? While several high-profile figures have been pinned as potential contenders, none of them stand a chance.
For example, one of the more prominent individuals mentioned is Congressman Frank Pallone, the progressive Democrat who has spent the last eighteen years representing a sizable portion of the Jersey Shore in the United States House of Representatives. It has been whispered in the halls of the State House that Pallone may launch a gubernatorial bid, hoping to resuscitate the all but dead policies of former Governor Jon Corzine.
This wouldn’t be Pallone’s first attempt at securing a new office (his 2006 Senate bid went down in flames), but it would mark the first time he made any attempt at jumping into the Executive Branch.
Despite all the hoopla, however, the probability that a Pallone for Governor campaign will ever manifest seems undeniably low. Democratic leadership would likely recognize that his left-leaning history would never carry moderate or conservative voters. The lack of mainstream appeal makes it highly unlikely that the eleven-term Congressman would be able to run the aggressive campaign that would be needed to take down Chris Christie.
Thus, for all intents and purposes, Frank Pallone should be removed from the list of viable contenders.
While Pallone may be unelectable, some have whispered that Senate President Steve Sweeney, the steel worker and union boss who is arguably the loudest critic of Governor Christie, would be the most powerful candidate the Democrats can muster.
It has long been rumored that Sweeney harbors gubernatorial desires, and given his track record of vocally condemning the incumbent Governor, it would seem that Sweeney is positioning himself to replace Christie. Sweeney certainly has the name recognition, the experience, and the connections to become Governor, and 2013 may be his last opportunity to tackle his adversary one final time.
But Sweeney isn’t polished enough to enjoy any electoral success seeking an office as high as Governor. For proof one need only look at the outcome of the infamous Kennedy vs. Nixon debate during the 1960 presidential election cycle. If the debate had been judged solely by the substance of each candidate’s performance, then Richard Nixon won hands down. Unfortunately for the Republican contender, Nixon was not as well polished a performer as the well-groomed and charming John F. Kennedy. Thus, most Americans felt the Democratic candidate won the debate.
Senator Sweeney, an unrestrained fellow who speaks with a thick South Jersey accent, would most likely fall victim to the same misguided voting trends. His delivery is often less than eloquent, and it is unlikely the Democratic leadership would open their bank account to a candidacy that would likely be doomed from the start.
Another name frequently mentioned in Corey Booker, the well-known mayor of Newark. As the leader of New Jersey’s largest city, Booker is no stranger to the Executive Branch. His energy, charm, and faith in the revitalization of Newark has made him a nationally known figure; a humorous quarrel with late-night host Jimmy Fallon also helped to boost his image abroad.
While Booker would be a formidable contender, one must remember he has actually aligned himself with Governor Christie on several key issues, thus giving fodder to Republican strategists who would likely destroy his campaign in a media barrage. While Booker will likely run for a higher office in the near future, a bid for the United States Senate seems more likely than the Office of the Governor.
The Democratic Party’s inability to locate a viable contender mirrors the predicament in which the GOP has fallen on a national scale. The Republicans have been unable to find a viable candidate willing to challenge President Obama, likely because all of the credible would-be contenders recognize that their candidacies will be doomed. Obama is a power-house, and he will likely win re-election in 2012.
In New Jersey, Governor Christie is a power-house, a beloved rock star of a politician with a nation-wide base of support. One can guarantee that when he runs for re-election, out of state contributions to his campaign will outnumber those of his opponent’s. Thus, it seems highly unlikely that the Democratic Party will ever locate a politician who is not only willing, but also able, to challenge and potentially defeat Governor Christie.