Now that the New Jersey’s primary election is complete and the candidates for governor are official, here is my advice for Chris Christie and Jon Corzine as they plot strategy for the upcoming campaign.
Campaign Recommendations for Chris Christie:
1. Pack your schedule with events that show how state government frustrates and angers New Jersey citizens. The problems may not be Jon Corzine’s fault and some may even be beyond his control. But as the man in charge, he is the face of state government. The more you can remind people they are unhappy, the more likely they are to vote for change.
2. Build on your strongest asset – your record as U.S. Attorney – to reach a broader audience. No one is going to argue with cracking down on corrupt politicians, but how many New Jerseyans really feel they were directly impacted by Sharpe James, Wayne Bryant or any of the other public officials who were convicted or pled guilty during your tenure? If there is something that people can relate to better, then capitalize on it. Look at all the attention other officials are getting for their efforts to tackle schemes that make it nearly impossible for average citizens to buy tickets for Bruce Springsteen.
3. Show some humility once in a while. So far, your responses to various charges that have come your way have been characterized by denial and anger. The primary was just a warm-up for the general election, so get used to the criticism. Even if you are in the right, at least acknowledge that your actions may have created an incorrect perception. The public respects leaders who are confident enough to admit when they have made a mistake. President Obama took the blame for some early missteps in his administration, and it doesn’t seem to have hurt his favorability numbers.
4. Run your campaign against Jon Corzine, not Jim McGreevey. Invoking McGreevey’s name may fire up ardent supporters, but the former governor is not on the ballot. Be fair to voters and focus on the person who is on the ballot, especially at a time when families are more concerned with putting food on the table than they are with someone who left office nearly five years ago.
5. Start a physical fitness routine and tell the world about it. A candidate’s physique has nothing to do with his or her ability to govern, but we do live in a visual age and people do make comments on individuals’ appearances – especially when those individuals are in the public spotlight. Why not have some fun with it and get some added attention from the public and the press as you work to shed a few pounds before Election Day? It will help to humanize you at a time when many voters feel disconnected from their elected officials.
Campaign Recommendations for Jon Corzine:
1. Pack your schedule with events designed to show that your opponent has not presented a viable alternative to addressing the state’s fiscal problems. It’s easy to make promises to lower taxes and reduce the size of government; it’s much harder to deliver and present specifics. Take every opportunity you can to explain the severity of the fiscal problems you confronted and the difficult decisions you had to make.
2. Play to your base. Democrats outnumber Republicans in New Jersey, and the state’s independent voters tend to lean left, so keep the traditional Democratic constituencies – labor, seniors, minorities, etc. – happy. Now is not the time to think outside the box and do something radical that angers your base. There will be plenty of opportunities to be more creative in a second term when you don’t need to worry about running for re-election.
3. Attack Chris Christie’s strengths. He is a candidate who has built his campaign on his record as a U.S. Attorney who successfully cracked down on corruption in New Jersey. But he is largely a one-issue candidate. If you can throw him off this solitary message, he will be in a much weaker position. Questions raised during the primary about some of Christie’s activities put him on the defensive and made it difficult for him to capitalize on his record. The same strategy could produce similar results in the general election.
4. Attack Chris Christie’s weaknesses. Remind voters that Christie has limited experience as an elected official and that the job of governor involves dealing with a long list of public policy issues. Do something gubernatorial every day to contrast what you do with what he has not done.
5. Run your campaign against Chris Christie, not George W. Bush. Invoking Bush’s name may fire up ardent supporters, but the former president is not on the ballot. Be fair to voters and focus on the person who is on the ballot, especially at a time when families are more concerned with putting food on the table than they are with someone who has left public office and has been doing his best to remain out of the public spotlight.
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