By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay
Though minimal media attention has assured it has gone largely unnoticed, there is currently a race for United States Senate underway in the State of New Jersey. While punditry and press alike seem to have written off a Republican victory as a pipedream, an unachievable goal in light of incumbent Senator Cory Booker’s undeniable star power, there are currently four contenders vying for the GOP nomination, though the field will be whittled to a single candidate following Tuesday’s Primary Election.
As of this writing, there is no clear frontrunner or establishment favorite, so the nomination is literally anyone’s for the taking. This will undoubtedly make for some interesting developments next week, though realistically speaking, the odds are stacked against any Republican running against Senator Booker. That having been said, one candidate in particular is certain he can defy expectations and give the former Newark Mayor a real run for his money. That individual is Jeff Bell, and though such a campaign will undoubtedly be an uphill battle, the seventy-one year old political activist isn’t exactly a novice when it comes to electoral upsets.
After all, back in 1978, he defeated incumbent Senator Clifford Case in the Republican primary. Though he wasn’t elected that November, the shocking upset solidified Bell’s permanent place in Jersey political lure. A follow-up campaign in 1982 also ended in defeat (the more liberal Millicent Fenwick received the nomination); however, Bell, who previously worked alongside President Reagan, went on to have a respectable career in political advocacy, working for a variety of conservative causes and authoring two books on conservative politics.
Now, some thirty years after he first sent shockwaves through the New Jersey GOP, Jeff Bell has returned to the Garden State in hopes of once again rocking the establishment, this time by challenging Senator Cory Booker. But what spawned such a drastic decision?
“It was a process of being frustrated with the way things are going in Washington,” Bell said. “I’m from a Reagan, Kemp, supply-side background and I felt that the members of Congress and other candidates I talked to were not really stepping up and saying, not just why Obama has been bad for the economy and the country, but what is it that we should be doing instead?”
Initially, after witnessing Mayor Steve Lonegan’s performance during the Senate Special Election last fall, Bell attempted to recruit another candidate into the race. He was unable to find a sufficient voice willing to jump into the political arena, so decided to launch his own campaign.
“I have nothing but admiration for Steve Lonegan’s race,” he said. “He did very well and I think that was one of the factors that made me think Cory Booker might be beatable.”
Bell, who had resided in Virginia for several years, moved back to New Jersey specifically to challenge Senator Booker. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but Bell feels he is well suited for the role of political candidate. Indeed, many high-profile figures seem to agree: Mayor Steve Lonegan, Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, Governor George Allen, Gary Bauer, Steve Forbes, and Larry Kudlow all endorsed his candidacy.
In the race for the Republican nod, Bell is competing against businessman Brian Goldberg (who possesses the greatest number of county GOP endorsements), libertarian academic Murray Sabrin (an heir to the Ron Paul mantra), and conservative activist Rich Pezzullo (who received the Monmouth County party’s backing). It’s a crowded field, but he feels his particularly detailed platform sets him apart from the competition.
“I think I am the only candidate who has a specific program to turn the economy around,” he said. “We all agree the economy is underperforming and it’s stagnant, but I am the only one who is willing to put something on the line and say: ‘I think the problem is heavily monetary and we ought to have a return to the dollar backed by gold.’’’
Bell believes this message can strike a chord with voters, particularly given the positive responses he has already received on the campaign trail.
“I think that the reactions I have gotten to this—the fact that the zero interest rate policy is grinding down the Middleclass, making it impossible to save, making it impossible for small business to access lines of credit, and therefore creating a ‘jobless recovery,’ if you can call it a recovery—resonates a lot. Another thing that resonates is the fact students are going to college for four years, borrowing a lot of money, their parents are borrowing a lot of money, and they come out and their college degree is worth a little piece of wallpaper because their aren’t entry rate jobs available. That’s the way the zero interest rate policy is stagnating the economy.”
There is another potential roadblock to a Republican Senate hopeful: the GOP’s lack of effectiveness at marketing itself to demographics that typically vote Democratic, namely minorities and the youth. While there has been positive energy since Governor Christie’s election, Bell believes the GOP’s future is particularly grim if it ignores the demographic shifts in New Jersey.
“I think Governor Christie has invigorated [the Republicans] in that he’s the most conservative Governor in the last several decades,” he said. “But the party is still very much in a defensive mode. To me, the biggest change is not so much in the party but the population; the minority portion of the population is bigger now…much bigger than it was when I was running before. If the Republican Party can’t find a way to communicate with minorities it has a very bleak future.”
As was previously stated, there is no frontrunner in this contest, so the outcome of Tuesday’s primary will likely be just as much a surprise to the candidates themselves as to the public as a whole. Regardless of this uncertainty, Jeff Bell is prepared; after-all, he has vision, experience, and is certainly no stranger to surprises.