By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay
Early yesterday morning, the Associated Press officially reported what every political enthusiast in the Garden State already knew: Governor Christopher J. Christie, New Jersey’s most controversial Republican, will seek re-election next year. This update came after the incumbent filed the prerequisite paperwork to run for office, an early sign that the gears of the political machines have started to spin. Even though voters are generally burned out by the prolonged presidential campaign, the gubernatorial election is right around the corner, and Republicans aren’t going to pass up a chance to prove their worth following Romney’s defeat.
Given his popularity and influence, Christie’s decision is not a shock to those who have followed his rise from national obscurity to political super-stardom. Nobody expected him to willingly retire after a single term, and though he has taken slack within the GOP for his willingness to work alongside Obama post-Hurricane Sandy, the chances of Christie suffering defeat during his party’s primaries is nearly non-existent. Sure, there are threats the Tea Party will field a challenger; however, the real speculation lies not with the inner workings of the Republican machine or their planned course to a second victory, but rather, who the Democrats expect to challenge the incumbent.
The Democratic Party is going to face an uphill battle next year in their quest to remove one of the country’s most popular politicians. While deposing Christie would be a shining jewel in their electoral crown, it is highly unlikely that any contender will be strong enough to sway voters away from the man who currently boasts an impressive seventy-two percent approval rating. The media, pundits and political hacks are well aware of this fact. Thus, the strategy for 2013 will likely focus more on sustaining Democratic influence with minimal loss rather than actually deposing Christie.
Sure, there is early talk Newark Mayor Corey Booker, former Governor Dick Codey, Senate President Steve Sweeney or Congressman Frank Pallone, will throw their hats into the ring and tackle the incumbent, but it is highly doubtful any of them will actually do so. Whomever the Democrats field will more likely than not be a sacrificial lamb, willing to take a hit for the team, not someone who actually wants to become governor.
Those who already hold reputable offices, particularly ones that require an amiable relationship with the Office of the Governor, aren’t going to be too anxious to put their careers on the line to wage a futile battle. It would waste a valuable resource to run Booker, popular among independents and moderates, against Christie when he could someday secure a seat in the United States Senate. To launch a gubernatorial campaign would be career suicide for Pallone, who relies on his leverage and popularity in the Sixth District to market the Democratic agenda; it would be similarly disastrous for Sweeney, who as Senate President, relies on his ability to work with Christie.
Despite the adversity, the chance to defeat Christie’s reform measures is of the utmost importance to Democratic Party loyalists, public union leaders and those who still wax nostalgic about the days of the Corzine Administration. However, even though partisans wait with bated breath to see who will be positioned as Christie’s successor, they don’t recognize their own party, despite its harsh rhetoric, likely doesn’t want to remove the incumbent from office.
Such a statement may seem extreme since Christie is widely viewed as the contemporary face of the Republican Party and a symbol of what the GOP needs to become if it hopes to appeal to voters in a culturally evolving America, and when taken at ideological face value, the claim is undeniably absurd. What many fail to realize, however, is that strategy is everything in politics. The ideological message plays second, or perhaps even third fiddle, to the sustainability of the party machine. Though he is diametrically opposed to their progressive agenda, keeping Christie in office weighs in the Democrats’ favor, though they will never admit it.
Think about it: for the last four years, Democrats have had their bogey man, the sinister governor to blame when anything goes wrong. He is easy to demonize and an effective means of tricking students and union members into avoiding the GOP, even if they might agree with its platform. When the Democrats need him on their side, Christie is willing to work alongside Steve Sweeney or the other legislative big- wigs; however, when it comes time for scaring up donations and support, the Democrats have found Christie to be a perfect recruiting tool.
It’s the perfect ploy. Since he has taken office, the Democrats have rarely had to delve into discussing actual issues – education reform, school budgets, public pensions – because they can simply say Christie is evil and out to snub the middle class. The reporters come calling, the politicians can cruise the national media, and all across the country loyal Democrats open their wallets. But what would happen if Christie were no longer governor? Who would they blame for high taxes, legislative gridlock, and their failure to make good on their social promises? Who would deflect the barrage of attacks that would inevitably be directed at the Democratic Party, as was the case when Corzine was at the helm?
Nobody. That is why, for the time-being, the Democratic Party sees Christie as a necessary evil. Unfathomable amounts of money will be funneled into both major parties next year; the campaigns, debates, and propagandizing will be intense. But it will all be for show. Next year, New Jersey is unlikely to see a repeat of 2009, because no matter what the outcome, the Democratic Party will be content, ready to position itself for its next electoral endeavor.