All Eyes on New Jersey

By Tommy De SenoAttorney/Writer

If you follow new GOP chief Michael Steele around these days, you can bet you'll hear him bring up New Jersey's gubernatorial race this year. He wants that blue state red again.

From top to bottom, the GOP is talking about New Jersey.

Here at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reminded the crowds that the last time New Jersey had a conservative candidate for governor, he won with 70% of the vote (Tom Kean, 1984). That's 70% -- in New Jersey.

After that victory it is inexplicable that New Jersey's Republican intelligentsia determined their Republican candidates would do better if they were more liberal. That's been proven quite wrong.

McConnell warned that the Republican Party risks becoming a regional party if they don't start concentrating on places like the Northeast.

So how important is New Jersey's race? Consider this: When Newt Gingrich spoke here at CPAC yesterday he called this year's New Jersey race "one of the most consequential in American history."

It's that's important.

So you can imagine the interest here when New Jersey Republican candidate for Governor Steve Lonegan took the stage. Not only was there a huge live audience but also around the sprawling conference area people stopped to watch the live feed on monitors in hallways and at the Exhibit Hall.

Steve Lonegan is a successful businessman and an accomplished mayor. He is a conservative and a tax slayer. He won election and reelection in a town where Democratic Party registration outpaces Republican party registration by a huge margin. That's the same scenario that the Republican candidate for governor will face all across the Garden State this year. He was quick to point out that he is the only candidate in the race who has proven he can overcome that stacked deck.

Such success doesn't come without being a great communicator and Lonegan proved here at CPAC, once again, that his skills in talking to the folks are as strong (and exciting) as almost anyone's on the national scene.

A Lonegan speech tends to be politics infused with fascinating history and moral lessons in life.

Here at CPAC, Lonegan reminded a crowd sentimental for America's beginnings that Washington's battle at Trenton was the changing point in the Revolutionary War, emboldening the Americans who were widely thought to have already lost the war, and disrupting British plans.

Lonegan's Republican campaign is similar to Washington's Trenton battle. Washington's troops were under great strain. One third of them had no boots. Their cause was losing and they faced a professional Hessian force that was well-funded and thought to be too dominant for the Americans.

But as Lonegan pointed out, the Hessians would later say they knew the Americans wouldn't lose just by the look in the eyes of Washington's troops. The underdog Americans turned to face a mighty military at the fight and took the battle of Trenton.

Fighting on the side of righteousness can do that to a man.

Lonegan notes he faces Corzine, a man who spent $120 million of his own money to practically purchase victories in his New Jersey Senate and gubernatorial races.

In Corzine, Lonegan also faces a man who gave millions of dollars in "gifts" to the head of New Jersey's largest union (who then endorsed him), while federal prosecutors sat back and passed no legal judgment on the matter. The Republican Party in New Jersey has been forced to file civil lawsuits to find out more about those "gifts."

Lonegan invited America at CPAC to join today's "Battle of Trenton." The crowd loved the line and in the hallways people could be heard yelling to "win the Battle of Trenton!"

While Republicans from all over America are enamored with Lonegan, his biggest challenge comes from Republicans in the Garden State. Monmouth County, a Republican stronghold, awarded the party line on the ballot to another candidate by fiat, without allowing Republican Committee members to be heard.

It has been reported that one Republican Assemblyman in New Jersey has said that Lonegan is "too right wing." I wonder which Republican policy that assemblyman disagrees with? He certainly didn't say.

George Washington's troops supported their cause. Will New Jersey Republicans be loyal to theirs?

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