New Jersey Democrats are working hard to reclaim the governorship in next month's election by tying GOP nominee Kim Guadagno to Chris Christie at every turn. But Republicans warn the constant bashing of the outgoing and unpopular GOP incumbent could turn off voters looking for a genuine platform.
Guadagno had a standout moment during last week's debate when she called out Democratic rival Phil Murphy over his strategy.
“The inconvenient truth for Phil is that Chris Christie is not on the ballot in November. I am,” Guadagno said in their first debate, where they also sparred over property taxes and immigration.
As lieutenant governor and Christie's former running mate, Guadagno has unavoidable links to the sitting governor. Likely aided by Christie's various controversies in office, Murphy is leading the polls by double digits -- and pushing a campaign message that focuses on the Christie connection.
He answered his first debate question by saying the “Christie-Guadagno administration” has favored the wealthy and corporate America at the expense of the state’s infrastructure and public school system.
“This is a great state that has been ravaged … over the past eight years,” said Murphy, who's also trying to tie his opponent to President Trump. “And the middle class has been left holding the bag.”
But Democrats have stumbled repeatedly in House special elections this year as they tried to make race after race a referendum on Trump. Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and U.S. ambassador to Germany, is facing criticism for his similar strategy with regard to Christie.
Alan Steinberg, a former Bush administration official, called Murphy’s debate performance “the worst” of any New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial candidate over the past 40 years.
“He’s overdoing it,” Steinberg, who insists he’s neither a Christie nor Trump supporter, also told NorthJersey.com
He also argues that Murphy, if elected, would make New Jersey a so-called “sanctuary state,” with policies protecting some illegal immigrants.
That issue could indeed help Guadagno ahead of Nov. 7 balloting, considering New Jersey has more unaffiliated or independent voters -- who helped Trump win the White House -- than registered Democrats or Republicans.
Since the debate, Guadagno supporters have run an ad featuring Jose Carranza, an illegal immigrant sentenced to 155 years in prison in connection with the fatal shooting of three students in 2007.
“Make no mistake, Murphy will have the backs of deranged murders like Carranza,” the narrator says in the 30-second video.
Asked for comment, Murphy spokesman Daniel Bryan said voters want “new leadership” and “want to turn the page from the Christie-Guadagno record,” again highlighting the Christie ties.
“Kim Guadagno has stood right by Chris Christie’s side every day and has made it clear that electing her would just be another four years of his failed agenda,” he said in a statement.
A Monmouth University poll released Oct. 3 showed Murphy with a 14-point lead, with 9 percent of voters still undecided.
However, earlier polls suggest Guadagno may be closing the gap, considering polls this summer showed him leading by as much as 27 percentage points.
Jon Thompson, a Republican Governors Association spokesman, said Tuesday that his group is running ads that argue Murphy would increase taxes -- and that voters are paying attention.
“Voters are saying, ‘This guy’s bad news. He’ll raise our taxes,’ ” Thompson said.