UNION CITY, N.J. — We’d never been to a Republican campaign rally before where it was difficult to interview the attendees over the blaring salsa music.
Union City is 85% Hispanic and gave President Barack Obama 81% of its votes in 2012. Yet Gov. Chris Christie (R) has strong support here, and it was in evidence last night at a campaign rally where about 200 local supporters turned out to hear him.
Most rally attendees we spoke with said they were Democrats or independents. Many were immigrants. Several said they hadn’t voted for Christie in 2009. But they all seemed enthusiastic to vote for him this time.
Republicans nationally should take notice.
In 2012, Mitt Romney lost Hispanic voters by a 2-1 margin and Asian Americans by nearly 3-1. Republicans nationally are tearing their hair out about the party’s dismal performance with non-white voters and the shrinking white share of the electorate. But the most recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll shows Christie leading his Democratic opponent by 15 points among non-white voters.
How has Christie overcome Republicans’ demographic problem? When we asked Union City rally attendees why they back Christie, they rarely cited policy specifics. Instead, four consistent themes emerged: They like and trust him personally; they appreciate his ability to forge bipartisan compromises; they think he did a good job handling Hurricane Sandy recovery; and they feel he has been available and treated their local governments well.
Marta Terranova, a Democrat who voted for Corzine in 2009, said she likes Christie because “whatever he says, he does.”
Bert Aguilera (“like Christina,” he said), a Democratic-leaning independent originally from the Philippines, cited a favourable tax-sharing arrangement that has helped his home city of Seacaucus and Christie’s record of bipartisan compromise.
The compromise factor is key. Republican messages often appeal to a resentment of government that is very specific to white voters. Think of Republicans’ lame repetition of, “I built it!” at the 2012 Republican Convention. A message about working together to make government work better is a much more appealing beyond the party base — and it’s one that Christie has embraced on the campaign trail.
“They’re going to know that I’ll work with anyone — of any party — if they want to make things better for the citizens of our state. That doesn’t happen in Washington. It happens in Trenton,” Christie said at a campaign event in Keansburg, N.J., on Saturday.
“And on Tuesday night, we’re going to show what bipartisan leadership is all about by coming through with a big victory that will tell America, ‘There is hope that government can work right for you all across America.'”
That message was playing especially well with Union City’s mostly non-Republican audience. Edgar Mirbex, Democrat from Ecuador who became a naturalized citizen in 2010, explained his support for Christie simply: “I like him.” Asked if he likes specific Christie policies, he said, “I don’t remember exactly.”
Democrat Samer El-Sammak of North Bergen is switching his vote from Corzine to Christie, and said the reason is Christie’s strong response to Hurricane Sandy. His friend, Republican Tarek Khalil, said they were at the rally “to show support from the Muslim community.”
Democrat Blanca Diaz cited Christie’s regular presence in Union City and attention to the city’s needs. “The other governors, they never come here,” she said.
Amber Saroza, a member of the Union City Democratic Committee, said the committee is unanimous in crossing the aisle to support Christie. “He’s helped the city in every way he can. School district, safety, property taxes, everything.”
Christie was joined at the rally by Union City Mayor Brian Stack (D), one of many Democratic municipal officials who has crossed the aisle to support him. Several attendees cited Stack’s support for Christie as key to their votes.
“Why do I like him?” Bimas Suazo, a truck driver and registered Democrat, said of Christie. “The mayor likes him. And that’s good enough for me.”
Many attendees at the rally displayed signs that showed who “Stack supports”: Celin J. Valvidia, a Democrat running for Commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation, and Christie, a Republican.
“Hudson County is so Democratic, and Brian Stack is so respected,” added Vivian Whalen, a Weehawken Republican who cited her own positive experiences working with Stack (who also serves as her state senator). “They’re showing the country that two separate parties can work together.”
One more note: at the rally, Christie was joined by New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez (R), who gave about half of her welcoming remarks to the crowd in Spanish.
Martinez one of only two national surrogates that Christie has brought to New Jersey to campaign with him in this race (the other is Rudy Giuliani) — likely a reflection of how few national Republican politicians can match Christie’s appeal outside the party base. If more Republicans would copy Christie’s style, the party might have a deeper bench of electable candidates.
Denise Sandoval, a registered Democrat, said she is proud of the way Christie has helped her city. When asked if she would vote for him for president in 2016, she responded enthusiastically.
“Sí!” she said.
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