Many pundits are explaining away Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno’s victory in the NJ GOP gubernatorial primary to the power of “the line” — the party organization’s column on the ballot, particularly in Monmouth and Ocean Counties where Guadagno earned 20,106 of her 37,712 vote margin of victory.
InsiderNJ pointed out this morning that Guadagno had the line in counties accounting for 46.4% of the average GOP vote share. She won 46.8% of the vote. Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli had the line in counties with 31.2% of the vote. He earned 31.1% of the vote.
The implication is that a candidate is endorsed by a county political party is a shoe-in. Primary voters will magically show up on election day and vote down the line.
It’s not that simple. InsiderNJ missed the fact that Ciattarelli lost two counties where he had the line…Middlesex and Mercer. The close percentages, in this case, are coincidental, not causal. Kim crushed it in most counties where she had the line. Jack crushed it only in his home county of Somerset. Jack had the line in Union County but won the county by only 195 votes.
Why do some lines have more magic than others?
A peak behind the curtain of the Monmouth GOP reveals where the magical power of a dominant line comes from.
Chairman Shaun Golden was probably looking forward to cruising through the primary season after pulling a rabbit out of his hat and avoiding a contested convention in March, despite having rare vacancies for legislative and county offices. (That wasn’t magic either, but it is a story of another time…maybe Golden’s biography if I’m still alive to write it.) After a grueling 2016 election, including his own reelection campaign for Sheriff, who would deny Golden a respite? The Ciattarelli campaign would.
The Ciattarelli campaign surprised the Monmouth GOP by filing its own Freeholder slate on April 3. The LD 12 primary challenge to Senator Sam Thompson, Assemblyman Ron Dancer and Assemblyman Rob Clifton was less of a shock because Burlington GOP Chairman Bill Layton had tried to recruit either Dancer or Clifton to run against Thompson. But the LD 12 stakeholders were hopeful that Layton would back down when Thompson’s running mates remained loyal. Layton charged ahead, escalating his long running intramural battle with Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore by fielding a slate of Art Haney of Old Bridge (Middlesex County) for Senate, Debbie Walker of Old Bridge and Alex Robotin of Chesterfield Burlington County).
Golden sprung to action and activated his “machine” of volunteers and interns to fight off the Ciattarelli challenge to his Freeholder candidates and his allies Thompson, Dancer and Clifton. “I got this,” Golden reportedly told Gilmore when he sided with the OC Chairman in the intramural fight against Layton. Gilmore was happy to let Golden do the heavy lifting, but he never relinquishes complete control.
If the Ciattarelli and Layton were hoping to catch Golden unprepared, they were gravely mistaken. Their challenge to Freeholder candidates Lillian Burry and Pat Impreveduto, as was well as the LD12 incumbents was an enormous tactical error.
Golden’s team of over 200 volunteers made over 18,500 phone calls to Monmouth County Republicans, according to Theresa Velardi, Executive Director of the MCGOP. The team knocked on over 3000 doors throughout the county during the primary. This effort was independent from the Guadagno campaign’s efforts, yet the Lt. Governor benefitted mightily.
The LD 12 incumbents were the main beneficiary of Golden’s efforts. Jeff Hein, a former MCGOP Executive Director and the LD 12 campaign manager said that the Thompson, Dancer, Clifton team made over 14,000 phone calls throughout the district that is comprised of parts of Burlington, Middlesex , Monmouth and Ocean counties. 4000 doors were knocked on and 77,000 pieces of mail went out to targeted voters. The LD 12’s targeted social media campaign achieved over 140,000 impressions with facebook users in the district between April 15 and June 6.
Given that effort, Guadagno’s 8,111 vote victory in Monmouth County and Thompson, Dancer and Clifton’s 60-40 domination in LD 12, where only roughly 7,000 GOP votes were cast, is no mystery. It was not accident that Thompson, Dancer and Clifton won all of the Burlington County towns in the district, despite not having the Burlington GOP line.
Golden’s Touch, is the source of the magical power of the line in Monmouth County.