Even for New Jersey politics, this is “bizarro world.”
“I mean, you have a guy who’s threatened with being kicked out — for doing his job!” Patrick Murray, the Monmouth University political scientist, told Business Insider. “It’s just nuts.”
Murray is referring to Tom Kean Jr., the New Jersey Republican state senator who — with arm-twisting from newly re-elected Gov. Chris Christie — was almost forced out of his job as the state Senate’s Minority Leader.
Christie and his staff lobbied Senate Republicans to oust Kean as Minority Leader and replace him with Kevin O’Toole, an Essex senator, according to The Washington Post and others reports. But Senate Republicans bucked their governor and re-elected Kean by a 10-6 margin.
Why did Christie push for this? Because his success as governor has been largely predicated on his good relationship with Democrats — especially Senate President Stephen Sweeney. Kean and Sweeney are in the midst of a nasty feud that sprang up when Kean campaigned hard against Sweeney, figuring that Christie’s landslide victory at the top of the ticket would give Republicans their best shot at recapturing control of the Senate.
But Christie, realising that Sweeney’s seat was likely safe and knowing he needs to work with Sweeney and other powerful Democrats to get legislation passed, did not actively campaign against him. Christie also avoided many districts near Sweeney when he did finally make a push — though he did campaign with Sheriff Frank Balles in Atlantic City during the last weekend of the campaign, calling incumbent Sen. Jim Whelan (D) an “animal” at a stop.
But the general lack of appearances in South Jersey irritated Kean’s camp. Christie threw his muscle (and money) into three North and Central Jersey districts — the 14th, 18th, and 38th — but mostly steered clear of South Jersey and Sweeney’s territory.
Susan Schmidt, a Republican candidate in New Jersey’s first Senate district, told Business Insider on Friday that if Christie had come more to her district, it “couldn’t have hurt.” But she also cautioned against placing blame on Christie.
“Relying on the governor means you’re not doing your job fully,” Schmidt said.
Spokesmen for Christie and Kean didn’t respond to requests for comment. But in his own statement following the vote that kept him as Minority Leader, Kean made a point of saying that he looked forward to working with both Christie and Sweeney.
“I’m honored to again lead the Republican Caucus in the Senate and I thank my colleagues for their overwhelming support,” Kean said. “The responsibility to my caucus and all New Jerseyans is one I hold with great respect. I look forward to working with Governor Christie, Steve, Jon and Vincent.”
How the situation is already being played on The Drudge Report suggests that conservatives who already view him skeptically could view this as another blemish on his record:
But it’s also true that Republicans picked up no seats the Senate — even in districts where Christie actively campaigned. Which suggests, perhaps, that maintaining a good relationship with powerful Democrats was the right move.
“They have decided on a strategy that says we are going to bypass the conservative voting bloc on the way to the general election in 2016,” said Murray, the Monmouth political scientist. “He knows that whatever he does, it will never be enough.”
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