A Ray of Sunshine After a Dark Campaign

As soon as the outcome of Tuesday’s election was apparent, the speculation began:

  • Was the election a referendum on President Obama?
  • How could a pro-life Republican win in a blue state such as New Jersey?
  • Why did the Democratic base fail to deliver the votes needed to re-elect the incumbent Governor?

Although these and other questions make for the type of healthy debate that is likely to continue long into the future, there is one topic that has largely been absent from the discussion to date: Regardless of whether your candidate won or lost, Tuesday’s voting patterns did reveal some positive trends that could bode well for future campaigns here in New Jersey.

For starters, let’s look at negative ads. No one likes them, but they have become campaign mainstays not just in New Jersey, but all over the nation. Political consultants say they negative ads are the best way to move undecided voters, but they were not so effective in this year’s race for Governor. Although both sides engaged in negative advertising, the Corzine campaign outspent its main rival and advertised more heavily, yet one of the factors that led to the Governor’s defeat was his inability to gain support from a significant percentage of New Jersey’s independent voters.

As exit polls by the National Election Pool/Edison Research revealed, 73 percent of those polled said Corzine had attacked Christie unfairly. There were, however, some mixed signals. Sixty-two percent of the participants felt Christie attacked Corzine unfairly; and, among Corzine supporters, 78 percent said their candidate’s attacks were unfair, but still voted for him.

Hopefully, the numbers – and the results – will make candidates and campaigns at least think twice before launching into negative strategies in the future. The Mayoral election across the river lends additional support to this theory. Incumbent New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent heavily on negative ads against an opponent who was considered a long-shot at best. Although Bloomberg prevailed, the election turned out to be much closer than expected.

Speaking of Bloomberg, there is something else that he and Governor Corzine have in common. Both are men who earned millions in the private sector and then used their own money to launch successful electoral bids. They are not alone. Over the past decade, with the cost of running for office rising astronomically, both parties have courted candidates who have the fiscal resources to self-finance expensive campaigns. There is nothing wrong with this practice. We live in a democracy and anyone — rich or poor — willing to devote his or her time and money to running for office deserves some admiration. But when individuals spend tens of millions of dollars of their own money to get elected, it can turn voters off by suggesting that political offices come with price tags and can be bought by the candidate with the most money. Following Bloomberg’s victory on Tuesday, The New York Daily News calculated that he spent more than $150 for each vote he received.

Bloomberg’s narrow victory, coupled with Corzine’s defeat, does not mean that we have seen the last of rich, self-financing candidates. But the results show that, regardless of how much a candidate spends, it’s not a given that he or she will win. Let’s give voters some credit. Sometimes we all underestimate the knowledge and intelligence of the public.

One other positive development emerged from Tuesday’s results: When Chris Christie takes office in January, it will mark the first time in over 15 years that the Governor and the Legislative leadership in New Jersey will be of different parties. For the past eight years, we have had Democratic Governors and a Democratic Legislature. During the preceding eight years, the situation was reversed with Republican Governors and a Republican Legislature. Regardless of who was in power, the minority party was marginalized.

With a Republican Governor and Democratic Legislature, there will have to be negotiation and compromise involving both parties in order to get legislation of any substance enacted. Let’s hope this happens because the only other scenario is that the two sides remain at odds and blame each other for Trenton’s failure to get the job done. We’ve had too much of that scenario already; I think that’s what voters told us on Tuesday.

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