Lonegan beats the spread

Lost in the news about the final shutdown showdown was Cory Booker’s 11-point win over Steve Lonegan in the New Jersey’s special Senate election yesterday.

Lonegan was always a long shot.  Booker gained national attention in 2009 and 2010 for personally shoveling snow for his constituents and allegedly saving one of them from a fire.  A big Booker win wasn’t only inevitable, it was the likely first step in things to come: He was the Democrats’ next rising star.   Known for being a primary opponent to Chris Christie, Lonegan was best known for his outspoken conservative activism – the type of sacrificial lamb a party runs when they know they are going to lose.  In June, Vega$ might have put the spread at, say, 19 1/2 points – and they might have started taking will-he-or-won’t-he Booker bets for 2016.

Lonegan was unsuccessful, but fierce.  He and his allies managed to crawl within 11 points (despite a bawdy interview from his campaign’s head consultant coming out the weekend before the election), and in the process showed Booker’s made-for-TV story is, well, made for TV.  His drug dealer friend T-Bone?  Most likely fiction.   The story where a young man died in his arms?  Not exactly how he remembered it.  That woman he saved from a fire?  Highly questionable.  The city that calls him mayor is deeply infected with violent crime.  He used to own a crack house.

After his first real election, Booker is already damaged goods.  The playbook to beat him – either in 2014 or in 2016 – has been written.  He’ll likely win re-election to the Senate, but it won’t be a slam dunk if the Republican Party of New Jersey fields a good candidate.  Martin O’Malley, Hilary Clinton, or any other Presidential contenders from the left have plenty of ammunition now.  Booker has lost the veneer of inevitability that he enjoyed, and shown that he isn’t the powerhouse he once seemed to be.

Sure, Cory Booker won this week – but that may be all he gets, thanks to Steve Lonegan.

Christie vs. Giuliani

Gov. Chris Christie fired what sounded like a shot against the early front runner for the 2016 Republican nomination last week:

“As a former prosecutor who was appointed by President George W. Bush on Sept. 10, 2001, I just want us to be really cautious, because this strain of libertarianism that’s going through both parties right now and making big headlines, I think, is a very dangerous thought,” Christie said.

There’s some value in Christie’s points, but they get lost in incendiary rhetoric.  Invoking September 11, 2001 and calling those with reservations about government overreach “dangerous” is similar to calling the Obama Administration “socialist” – the words are so far over the top that they no longer register with the average voter.

Those concerned with domestic spying and data mining programs rail against politicians who frame a choice between security and privacy.  Christie would have been smarter to echo such”false choice” rhetoric.  “There needn’t be a false choice between security and privacy – we can and must have aggressive, effective programs that smoke out terrorists that don’t violate our rights,” he might have said.  (Though, come to think of it, he probably shouldn’t use the word “needn’t.”  He’s got speechwriters for that, though.)

This type of language is much more inclusive, and that’s what Christie will need to get his 2016 efforts on track.  Sen. Rand Paul is ahead in the polls because people support his positions; a candidate who calls those positions “dangerous” will find it hard to win their support – even if he wins the nomination.

Christie has a good example just to his north, in the city for which his state is an oversize suburb.  Rudy Giuliani’s speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention argued for many specific policies that Paul would probably not agree with.  Yet the arguments were framed by a theme captured in one stand-out phrase: “Our party’s great contribution is to expand freedom.”  Giuliani was never a conservative darling, but with this line he at least let on that he understood where conservatives were coming from.

Giuliani did not simply argue that he was right while the other side was wrong; he argued that the other side should agree with him because his solutions offered the best chance to advance their goals.  It’s similar to the way Paul Ryan tried to frame entitlement reform as a way to preserve the safety net.

And it’s the way a candidate like Christie – who will , realistically, have difficulty proving conservative bona fides to many primary voters – will have to start talking if he wants to win the party’s nomination and the White House.

3 Reasons Why This Is Christie’s Time

Politico reports grumblings out of New Jersey that Governor Chris Christie is mulling the first tentative steps of a Presidential run.  Up to now, Christie has been consistently adamant that he isn’t running, but his candidacy was extremely likely even before this revelation.

The bottom line is that if Chris Christie wants to be President, a 2012 run makes the most political sense for three big reasons:

1.  Christie is well-positioned to deliver the right message for the times.

The protests in Wisconsin may have been a tipping point for Christie, as they look to be the first in a series of clashes between public sector employees unions and the unfortunate realities of states in the upper Midwest, Northeast, Rust Belt, and West Coast whose tax bases are dwindling and whose budget deficits are expanding.  If the abstract concept of reducing government spending was the central theme of 2010, the issue of whom gets what from shrinking government doles will be a recurring discussion leading up to 2012.

How this discussion is framed will go a long way toward deciding how many seats Republicans gain in the Senate and how successful the 2012 GOP candidate is.  Unlike many national elections of recent vintage, 2012 has the potential to pose to the voters a meaningful question about the role and size of government.

Christie has already waged this fight in New Jersey (the only GOP candidate who has done so recently).  But what’s more important than that has been the direct, unapologetic tone he has used in doing so.  With tough financial decisions on the horizon, Christie has become Mr. Tough Love – and unlike most successful politicians, he has not shied from confrontation.

If the momentum from the tea partiers continues into 2012, and there remains a swath of the Republican electorate that still feels government is not working for them, is there a better person to lead the charge against entitlements and special interest groups – and get rank-and-file Republicans excited about it – than Christie?

2.  Christie’s larger-than-life personality can go head-to-head versus President Obama.

That isn’t a fat joke.  It is a recognition that the sitting President enjoyed a huge charisma advantage over all his opponents in 2008, and the electorate still likes him.  Why not?  He’s a cool guy, he fills out an NCAA bracket every year, and he jokes around about salmon during his addresses to Congress.  More important, he still has a remarkable campaign infrastructure in place and is well-positioned to take on any Republican who can’t provide some level of excitement.

But he also has trouble with confrontation.  From the town halls of 2009 to the tea parties of 2010, President Obama has consistently shown that a full frontal assault on his initiatives is the best way to throw him and his administration off their talking points.  Christie’s blunt style seems best suited for flustering the President – and making the election narrative follow the script Christie sets out.

3.  Christie is popular among Republicans now, but political memories are short.

Hillary Clinton might have been President if she had run in 2004 – President George W. Bush squeaked out a reelection victory over a challenger who looked like a sad puppytalked like the Mayor from T’was the Night Before Christmas, and provided precious few reasons to switch horses.  By 2008, she had become Washington establishment – part of the problem that the Obama campaign sought to solve.

Her husband, of course, beat the first President Bush in 1992, less than two years after the incumbent enjoyed record-high 90% approval ratings.

In between 2012 and 2016, there are plenty of things that could go wrong for Christie.  His hold on the blue New Jersey electorate could slip, he could enter into a legislative compromise that sours his standing among social conservatives, or he could simply become yesterday’s news with a lost reelection bid 2013.

Christie running in 2012 isn’t just a convenient answer for Republicans looking for a leader.  Second chances in presidential campaigns are rare.

The biggest obstacle to Christie’s candidacy will of course be his promises that he won’t run.  His denials have been just as adamant as Barack Obama’s in 2006, and getting around the statement “I swear I’m not running” is one of the easiest maneuvers in politics.  If anyone could get away with, “eh, I changed my mind” as a response, Christie’s the one to do it.

The Obama Triangle?

Our President is establishing a bad track record.

Much has been written and said on his drop in the polls over the last year, but his track record in trying to lend a helping hand has been particularly disturbing:

  • In 2009, President Obama campaigned in New Jersey for incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine and in Virginia for Democrat Creigh Deeds.  Both tied their campaigns to the successful 2008 Obama campaign in varying degrees; both lost.
  • In 2010, the President entered the Bay State to give Democrat Martha Coakley a boost in what was, according to the polls at the time, a dead heat.  We know how that turned out.

T’was the night before the Election…

Virginia: With Virginia’s election trending heavily toward Republican Bob McDonnell, Creigh Deeds has been running a new ad in the last week:

It continues a running theme for Deeds’ campaign: “Hey, look at the cool people who I hang out with!”  Unfortunately for him, attaching himself to other, more popular politicians hasn’t worked yet and likely won’t work tomorrow:

(In the meantime, NotLarrySabato re-posted and updated an older post that made the case that Gov. Tim Kaine is the Democrats’ version of former GOP Gov. Jim Gilmore.  It’s  an interesting read on VA politics.)

New Jersey: Gov. Corzine is following the same strategy as Creigh Deeds by hitching his wagon to the Obama train.  It’s certainly a better idea than bringing up a failed proposal to lease New Jersey’s most famous tourist destination, the Jersey Turnpike – a likely interview misstep which he has since backed off of.  It’s a hollow strategy that may drag Corzine over the finish line, but speaks volumes for Democrats’ supposed intellectual edge in the battle of ideas.  There are two other strategies to expect in a New Jersey race as well: voter fraud and litigation.  Look for Corzine to either pull out a close victory at the polls or file as many lawsuits as it takes to be declared the winner.

New York 23: This has suddenly become a fashionable race drawing lots on national attention from both sides, so you can’t really call out Democrat Bill Owens for following the same playbook as Corzine and Deeds.  In fact, the big story line in the idea that the third-party challenge is evidence of conflict within the Republican Party – but then again, what isn’t?  The real story is that Dede Scozzafava’s defection has not resulted in a rush of support for Owens.  With heavily motivated support and momentum, the smart money here is on Doug Hoffman.