MAGA Mounts Bid for GOP Nomination in New Jersey Against Mainstream
It’s MAGA against the mainstream in Tuesday’s GOP governor’s primary, as two candidates who adhere to Donald Trump’s ideology take on a former state assembly member who fits the pre-Republican mold. -Trump. The contest is particularly noteworthy because it is the first statewide election in the country since the presidential contest in November (Virginia also has a gubernatorial election on Tuesday), and so it could serve as a test to find out if Trumpism has the power to stay.
The winner faces Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat who has no opponents in his party’s primary. Murphy is relatively popular in this Blue State, but only 48% of respondents in a recent Monmouth University survey said he deserved a second term. Plus, he faces the story: an incumbent Democrat has not been re-elected governor of New Jersey since 1977.
While the state electorate consistently votes Democratic in statewide races, independents represent a decisive vote and the Republican electorate is largely behind Trump – polled after the election, a majority said they didn’t think he lost last November’s election.
Candidates Hirsh Singh, an engineer who ran unsuccessfully for Congress, Governor, and Senate, and Phil Rizzo, a real estate developer and pastor, both believe former President Trump won. Singh called Trump the greatest president of his life in a debate last month, and Rizzo describes himself as the “candidate for medical freedom,” claiming the masks don’t work and have psychologically damaged children.
Jack Ciattarelli, a former accountant and business owner who served two terms in the assembly and unsuccessfully sought the Republican gubernatorial nomination four years ago, is the frontrunner. It got the approval of the 21 county GOP committees and has passed five times more on the run than his opponents. He’s leading the more traditional Republican campaign, focused on the state’s high property taxes, opposition to sanctuary state policies that protect undocumented immigrants, and criticism of Murphy for his handling of the COVID-pandemic. 19 – especially deaths in nursing homes and foreclosure restrictions that hurt businesses.
On the strain last month in Kenilworth, Union County, Ciattarelli told a group of retired police and firefighters the story of his family’s discipline and hard work. His opening anecdote about his thoughtless Italian mother immediately recalled the rhetorical approach of the state’s last Republican governor, Chris Christie, who often told stories about his mother.
“My two brothers and I could create a hell around the house, and she never, ever once said, ‘Wait till your dad comes home,’” Ciattarelli said. “All she had to do was open that utensil drawer in the kitchen. She voluntarily pulled it out very hard. You knew that sound when you heard it. And she always had more than a wooden spoon because she would break one every now and then.
Ciattarelli’s tax policy is also reminiscent of Christie’s. He partially blames the state’s exorbitant property taxes on how a disproportionate amount of school funding goes to districts with disadvantaged students. “The communities we all live in, excuse my French, are being taken in when it comes to state aid to schools,” Ciattarelli told the Kenilworth crowd, which was skewed by the elderly and white.
During the event, a word did not come: Asset. No one even asked about the former president, suggesting he was not as important as one might expect when it comes to state policy. Ciattarelli performed a delicate dance on Trump: in 2015 he called the presidential candidate at the time was a “charlatan” and in 2016 he failed to vote for the president at all. Ciattarelli voted for him in 2020, saying he agreed with the policies of Trump’s first term, but admitted losing to current President Joe Biden.
“I don’t think it’s a secret, I was never a big fan of the president’s personality, but I supported him,” Ciattarelli said. “I attended the rallies, I attended the parades, I attended the flotillas. We even pulled out of our pocket for 3,000 Trump-Pence signs statewide. “
Yet, he said, his campaign is about Murphy, who “is trying to get us to swallow a progressive California agenda – that’s not who we are in New Jersey.” But Murphy is sure to try to make the general election no matter who the Republican nominee is about Trump, who is deeply unpopular in the state.
In a candidates’ debate on 101.5 FM last month, Singh distinguished himself from Ciattarelli, his only debate opponent, on the Trump issue. “We all know Trump won,” he said. “It is something without a doubt.” Singh scornfully called Ciattarelli a Republican “Liz Cheney-Mitt Romney”.
In a bizarre behind-the-scenes meeting of the debate, Singh’s campaign manager filmed himself baiting Ciattarelli’s wife over the Ciattarellis’ support for Trump and whether their children are legally voting in New Jersey. Melinda Ciattarelli responded by calling Singh a “dumb” and a “fool”. Ciattarelli later tweeted that he was proud of his wife and sent two fundraising emails highlighting the meeting.
Singh is almost entirely self-funded, and in a past campaign he received most of his financial support from his father. In the debate, Ciattarelli noted that Singh lives with his parents.
The other candidate hoping to capitalize on the pro-Trump approach is Rizzo, who is on leave as a pastor from a church he founded in Hudson County that was recently under review. meticulous when Politico reported he sold his mansion in Morris County to the church. As it is now a rectory, Rizzo does not pay taxes on it.
Rizzo tweeted a photo with Trump and hosted events at Trump’s clubs, but said he was looking to appeal to a wider electorate. He said he had stronger conservative credentials on the 2nd Amendment and pro-life issues than Ciattarelli.
“If people vote for a Trump supporter, I’m here, but I come with real solutions and a real plan to get New Jersey families back on track,” he said.
Campaigning at the Hightstown Diner in central Jersey last week, Rizzo said Ciattarelli shouldn’t have posted pictures of him wearing masks and getting the shot. “It’s not medical freedom; it’s pushing a vaccine control program, ”Rizzo said.
When asked if he was vaccinated, Rizzo replied, “It’s none of your business, nor anyone who is really… It’s not the government’s job to keep us healthy. It is the government’s job to keep us free. Rizzo said he refused to close his church during the lockdown, despite orders from the governor.
Rizzo’s “medical freedom” mantra resonated with Voter Bonnie Mecca, who came to the restaurant to meet Rizzo. She said she was furious with the mask warrants and lockdown restrictions imposed by Murphy.
“People walk around scared for their lives, as if the crown lives somewhere in the trees, ”she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it and the jersey that I knew. I’m not going to get old myself, but the jersey I knew 15 years ago wouldn’t take that, hell no question.
Mecca predicted that support for Trump would be important to voters in Tuesday’s primary. “I think it matters a lot because Trump will be, has been and always will be the model of the Republican Party,” she said. “It’s just like that.”
But when the Ciattarelli campaign ended, Trump was a non-entity. Sandy Danco, a retired police chief, said the race was aimed at beating Murphy, not Trump, and on that front Ciattarelli won his vote.
“He stood here for almost 15, 20 minutes without receiving any notes and it all came right out of his head,” Danco said. “And you can tell a sincere and honest person doing this.”
A fourth candidate, former Franklin Township Mayor Brian Levine, is leading a limited campaign.
Trump did not endorse the race.