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  Daily Muse: THE CURE FOR OBAMACARE ISN'T JUST THE WEBSITE

So today the CBS poll has President Obama's approval ratings have fallen to 37 percent; the RealClearPolitics average of all the polls puts him at 40 percent.

Amazing what a really bad website rollout can do.

Except of course, we all know that Obama's poll numbers aren't falling because the Obamacare website doesn't work.

They're falling because Americans have stopped trusting the president.

"If you like your plan, you can keep your plan" has become "If you lie to us about this, what else will you lie to us about?"

A president is only as effective as the trust and faith he or she is given by the public.

And when the public decides that that president has not been honest -- or worse yet,  lied to them -- then that president can never regain that trust.

The problems with Obamacare are about more than just a website, or even about the policy.

It's about whether the Obama administration chose to shade the  truth -- dare we say, lie -- rather than tell the American people the truth.

Because here's the thing about Americans: we still believe in the fundamental honesty of our elected leaders.  If a candidate -- or worse yet -- a president, looks us in the eye and tells us something, and insists it is true, then we believe them.

Until they prove to us that we can't.

Ever since 2008, we have been told over and over again by the president that if we liked our health insurance plan, then we could keep our plan.  That if we liked our doctor, we could keep our doctor.

And then came the rollout. And the cancellation notices.

Eight hundred thousand cancellation notices in New Jersey alone.

That's 800,000 New Jersey families who suddenly had to scramble to find new health insurance.

And worse yet, the place that they were supposed to go to find that new health insurance -- the Obamacare website -- isn't working.

And now we learn, that the administration was warned in March that the website wouldn't work.

Yet they went ahead with the launch anyway.

And acted surprised when it didn't work.

And tried to sweep away the cancellation notices by saying it was only a small percent of Americans.

As if somehow that makes the lie go away.

Obama never said "For the vast majority, if yu like you plan, you can keep your plan." He said "If you like your plan you can keep your plan, period."

As in no ifs, ands or buts.

So now this distrust of the president has begun seeping into Americans' bones.

Back in Richard Nixon's day, they used to warn about a cancer on the presidency.

But lack of trust is a malignancy too. It spreads just as insiduously. And it's just as hard to remove.

And once it's planted, you question everything.

Which is the real danger for the Obama administration. If we can't trust him on as fundamental as a repeated promise to us, how can we trust him going forward? And how can we trust what he's said about Benghazi, or the IRS? And maybe we question those unemployment numbers.

Because once, where you took him at his word, we now know we can''t.

So yes, the president may fix the website. But finding a cure for his credibility won't be as easy.





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  Daily Muse: CHRISTIE AND KEAN: NOT SO PERFECT TOGETHER

Did Gov. Chris Christie make a deal with Democrats to sacrifice a Republican legislature?

That's the stunning assertion made in a NJSpotlight.com article that looked at Christie's efforts to replace Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. with a senator more to his -- and Senate President Stephen Sweeney's -- liking:

Christie’s ham-fisted attempt to try to replace Kean with O’Toole came about because Christie and Sweeney were furious that Kean ignored Christie’s orders not to try to win seats south of Route 195. South Jersey is Sweeney-Norcross country, seven districts spanning seven counties where Democrats hold 18 out of 21 Senate and Assembly seats and effectively control the Legislature by voting as a bloc -- which is fine with Christie.

We will note that Christie won every single Southern county last week, including Camden and Cumberland, which Christie lost to Corzine last time.

But if this story is true -- and it certainly would explain much of Christie's inexplicable behavior this campaign season, including his decision not to actively campaign asking voters to give him a Republican Senate -- think about what that says.

If true, it means Christie and Sweeney cut a  deal where Christie wouldn't campaign for Republican candidates in the southern part of the state, in effect, assuring a Democratic Senate, in exchange for what?

Well, we don't know. But the implications aren't good.

Now maybe Christie decided that the Democratic legislative map made it impossible for Republicans to 
win any seats.

Maybe he thought that if he won big enough, he could carry Republicans into office on the strength of his coattails, without the need to do any campaigning.

And maybe he figured that if he was to have any success in passing his agenda in a second term, he needed to keep Sweeney in his camp.

Let's give him all that.

But this is the same Chris Christie who railed against the state Supreme Court, saying he wanted to make it more conservative.  A Democratic Senate isn't going to let that happen. Has he abandoned that?

This is also the same Christie who's been pushing for legislative action on issues like sick leave reform  and increased school choice -- has he abandoned that? Or has he gotten assurances that those bills will move forward?

And what about his proposed income tax cuts?

One of the interesting things moving forward will be to see how close legislative Republicans march in lockstep with Christie in the future. Will they forget about Christies decision to aggressively campaign to add to their ranks?

Will they forget about Christie's attempts to oust Kean as minority leader, in effect working with Sweeney to replace him?

Probably. In politics, memories are short.

But in families, well, that's a different matter. In families, politics is personal.

One of the great mysteries of Christie's efforts to oust Kean from his post is that he was trying to unseat the son of the man that Christie has often referred to as his mentor. 

What must Kean Sr. think of Christie?

Well, now we know.

Charlie stile of NorthJersey.com reports that Kean has cooled on Christie:

In an interview with The Record, Kean said he was “very disappointed” with Christie’s attempt last week to unseat Thomas H. Kean Jr. as Senate minority leader.

“It certainly doesn’t make me any fonder of him,’’ Kean said.

Until recently, Kean touted Christie as a leader with the appeal and pragmatism to recapture the White House. In Kean’s estimation, no other Republican had a better chance at defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“They can nominate somebody who touches all the conservative bases, and you'll get 40-something percent of the vote and the Democrats will win, or they can pick somebody who is like Christie who spans the spectrum and brings a whole lot of folks that aren’t Republicans into the party — much like Ronald Reagan did — and win,” Kean said in an interview with Politickernj.com in August.

But that enthusiasm has since vanished.

“He’ll have a microscope on him and we’ll find out … if he’s qualified,” he told The Record.

Kean Jr. survived the coup attempt, dealing Christie a rare rebuke from his own party since sweeping into office four years ago. But whether Christie’s relationship with the elder Kean survives remains an open question. The episode raises another question about whether Christie’s ambition trumps loyalty — an issue that dogged the governor when his post-Sandy embrace of President Obama was seen by some supporters of Republican Mitt Romney as an act of betrayal.

The elder Kean, New Jersey’s popular two-term governor from 1982 to 1990, suggested that his disappointment isn’t permanent and that Christie can learn from his “bad” mistake. Yet Kean was still upset over the move, which could have destroyed his son’s political future.

“I don’t know what the motivation was, what the giveback was,’’ Kean said, echoing suspicions that Christie may have cut a deal with the Democratic Senate president, Stephen Sweeney, to remove his son from power.

Now, we know this is all inside baseball. We know it's Trenton politics.  But here's the danger for Christie.

One of the criticisms that conservatives -- including talk-show conservatives like Sean Hannity -- have used against Christie is that Christie is all about Christie.

That's not a meme that will get the governor elected president. And it's one that could undercut Christie's broader appeal of a tough-talking pragmatist who's willing to work in a bipartisan way to get things done.

Especially if conservatives and Republicans start believing that working in a bipartisan way means undercutting fellow Republicans to promote his agenda.  They already think that because of Christie's praise of Obama right before the presidential election -- never mind that New Jersey needed federal help after superstorm Sandy.

Stories like Christie and Kean can only cement that belief -- and that won't help him in primaries in states like Iowa and South Carolina.

Compounding the problem, it's not like Kean is an unknown name nationally.  It would be one thing if Christie worked against John Doe -- but Tom Kean Jr.? It's the kind of story that can gain traction.

Pragmatic politics may work well in Trenton.  But what if primary voters start wondering if Christie puts pragmatism ahead of loyalty?

The point is, if Christie wants to run for president, he's got to recognize that every action he takes will be seen through the prism of a national microscope.  And if even the former governor of New Jersey is suggesting that there may have been some sort of "giveback" in Christie's working with Democrats to oust his son, well, that's not the sort of story that will play well in Peoria.

Or Des Moines. Or Charleston.





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  Daily Muse: WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE ...

We all know, or at least suspected, that politics can be an internecine sport.

Just like we all know, as some wag once put it, that politics ain't beanbag.

But what's going on these days between Senate President Steve Sweeney and Minority Leader Tom Kean gives new definition to the term bad blood.

And why is Gov. Chris Christie choosing Sweeney over Kean?

We all knew that Kean and Sweeney didn't get along. But who knew it was this bad?

First, Sweeney dismissively calls Kean "Junior." And then, after Senate Republicans defied the governor and re-elected Kean as minority leader, Sweeney got even more personal, characterizing their feud as “an ironworker against a trust fund baby.”

And then he said this: “Listen, they selected a guy that lost three elections in a row. I actually should send them all a thank you note, because as long as Tom is leading them, we’re going to continue to win.”

Kean has kept silent during this barrage.

And to double-down on Sweeney's statements, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg referred to Kean as a "scared child" who "hid" rather than oppose the governor on issues like cuts to women's health funding.

Now we get that Republicans and Democrats are supposed to oppose each other. But frankly, Sweeney's referring to Kean as a "trust fund baby" is a cheap shot.  If he wants to gloat over keeping his 24 senators intact, despite Gov. Chris Christie's 22-point win, fine.

But in trying to tear Kean down, by attacking him so personally, Sweeney comes off as petty and frankly, mean-spirited.

And it just wasn't necessary.

But here's what makes this story even more Machiavellian.

Christie actually tried to have Kean removed as minority leader, by promoting his guy, Sen. Kevin O'Toole of Essex to take his place.  He herded Republican senators into his office to try and get them to vote for O'Toole.

Let us recall, shall we, that Christie spent much of the campaign talking about bipatisanship, and how he'd partnered with Sweeney and the Democrats to get bills passed.

And let us recall that Christie did little to promote a Republican legislature during the campaign. Sure, he stepped in and helped some candidates in the closing weeks. But that was for individual races.

Christie, while out on the trail, never made a case that he needed a Republican legislature in order to get more conservative judges on the court, or to enact some of his stalled agenda, such as sick leave reform. None of it.

And let us remember as well how effective Christie can be on the stump, such as his first year in office, when he barnstormed the state asking voters to reject budgets in districts where teachers had refused to pay some money toward their previously free health insurance.  A record number of school budgets went down to defeat.

But there was none of that, and plenty of emphasis on bipartisanship.  If one were cynical, one could almost wonder whether Christie was telegraphing that he was comfortable with the status quo, with Democrats in control of the Legislature.

And yes, yes, we know -- the legislative map was decked against the Republicans, and they might not have won even if Christie had campaigned.

But we'll never know.

And when you throw in how Christie was personally campaigning -- in private -- to have Kean removed, it does make one scratch one's head.

Especially when you consider that Christie has said on more than one occasion how former Gov. Tom Kean -- Sen. Kean's father -- is his mentor.

So this is how he repays his mentor, by trying to oust his son?
There's more going on here than we know. 


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  Daily Muse: CHRISTIE WINS BIG, BUT NO COATTAILS

So Gov. Chris Christie got his 20-plus point, and pundits everywhere are touting his prospects for 2016.

The other big winner? That Democratic legislative redistricting map, which withstood the Christie juggernaut and kept the Legislature solidly in Democratic hands, with the GOP picking up one Assembly seat, with a few other races too close to call. 

But if you want to know the key to Christie's big win, all you have to do is look at those Sandy counties: Ocean delivered 76 percent or 125,000 votes to Christie; Monmouth, 122,928, or 71 percent; Cape May, 23,425, or 72 percent; and traditional Republican counties like Hunterdon, 74 percent' Warren, 73 percent and Sussex, 71 percent.

The other key to Christie's victory? The big Democratic stayed home, or voted for Christie: Buono only won two counties Essex, which she left iwth only a 45,000 vote plurality, and Hudson, which only gave her an 11,000 vote bounce.

There is a reason why Christie chose to visit Hudson County today

No Democrat can win with those numbers, especially with Christie winning Camden County with 55 percent of the vote.  Even Buono's home county of Middlesex abandoned her, with 58 percent choosing Christie.

Here's something to ponder on the day after:  The Democratic Party bosses did not help Buono. In fact, you could argue on the numbers that they just didn't sit on their hands, they tied them up and buried them.

And that probably tells us more about the keys to the election than most anything else.


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  Daily Muse: WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN THE POLLS CLOSE

At the end, all you need to know about the state of the New Jersey governor's race is this: Where Barbara Buono was still trying to shore up her base, Chris Christie was barnstorming the entiire state, not just looking for Republican votes, but making an overt play for Democratic votes as well.

How overt? He went to towns with significant Latino populations with New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez.  Now when you consider that three polls out Monday have Christie leading Buono by 20, 28 and 36 points, it's hard not to conclude that Christie isn't going to be satisfied with just a win, he wants a really big win.

(Now, if we were cynical, we might note that a really big win, plus a sizable Hispanic vote, might help make the case to Republican primary voters that he's not just a candidate that can win, but that he has the ability to sway Democratic voters to the Republican cause.

But that's only if we were cynical.)

With the election seemingly not in doubt, the guessing game tonight is how large will Christie's margin of victory by, and will it be large enough to swing any legislative seats to the Republican column?

A new Rutgers poll out Monday suggests that Republicans could gain legislative seats, if Christie's margin is big enough, and if enough dispirited Democrats stay home:

After giving Democrats an 18-point margin in early September, likely voters now favor Democrats by single digits statewide in both Assembly and Senate races. Christie’s success is rubbing off, especially among fellow partisans. 

Among the increasing number of Christie supporters, Republican Assembly candidates lead, 53 percent to 22 percent. In the Senate, Republicans lead 55 percent to 25 percent among these voters. While more than eight in 10 Buono voters choose legislative Democrats, the smaller share of her supporters means statewide Democrats are in worse shape than two months ago. 

Democrats maintain a small lead because most partisan voters still plan to vote for their party in 
both Assembly and Senate races. However, increasing solidarity among likely Republican voters 
contributes to Republican gains. In Assembly races, 89 percent of GOP voters are now staying with the 
party line, up 13 points from September. Eighty-two percent of Democrats plan to vote for legislative 
Democrats, even as many are defecting to Christie at the top of the ticket. Senate races look similar. 
Christie’s coattails are not as strong with independents, but Assembly Republicans eke out a 4- 
point lead, 32 percent to 28 percent, while independents favor Senate GOPers, 37 percent to 31 percent. 

“As always, these statewide tests do not tell us about individual districts, and they are highly 
contingent on who actually chooses to vote in these races,” noted Redlawsk. “But as the statewide margin closes, some Democratic seats may be more at risk than they were before.”

Make no mistake. If Republicans gain legislative seats, it will be solely because of the size of Christie's margin of victory. The governor did some late campaigning in targeted districts, but he did not emphasize asking voters to return him to Trenton with a Republican legislature. 

To be fair, the legislative district map drawn by Democrats greatly favors Democrats. And the Associated Press notes that Christie did make a last-minute push in some key districts:

The state GOP with Christie at the helm is pouring end-of-campaign resources into three Senate seats held by Democrats and viewed as most winnable by the GOP: District 14 in Middlesex and Mercer counties; District 18, which includes Buono’s Middlesex County; and District 38, a historically competitive district in Bergen and Passaic counties. Additionally, Districts 1, 2 and 3 are represented by Democrats but are in the more conservative southern reaches of the state.

 ...

Christie has produced a television commercial for Peter Inverso, running against incumbent Linda Greenstein in the 14th District. He has also poured resources into David Stahl in the 18th District and Fernando Alonso in District 38.

The GOP needs 5 seats to take control of the state Senate. And while Republicans  have been outspent, make no mistake, they are hoping that a large Christie victory will help bring Republicans into office. Or, as Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, told the Ledger"I don’t think there’s any doubt there, because every model that has been used in the last 20 years of polling, I don’t think works. I don’t think we’ve ever had a Republican up 20 or 30 points in districts that are either swing or Democratic."

How likely is it that a large Christie victory could flip some seats. The Ledger took a look at gubernatorial blowouts:

In 2001, Democrat Jim McGreevey beat Republican Bret Schundler by 15 points. At the same time, Democrats flipped nine Assembly seats to take control of the lower house, and five Senate seats to tie the upper house 20-20. But observers say that was due much more to the change in legislative district maps that year from one that favored Republicans to one that favored Democrats.

However, in the most lopsided election in New Jersey history, when former Republican Gov. Tom Kean beat Democrat Peter Shapiro by 40 points in 1985, Republicans flipped 14 Assembly seats to take a big majority in the chamber. The Senate was not up that year.

No one is expecting Christie to win by 40.  But if it's a blowout, all eyes will be on the impact the Christie vote is having on the Legislature.

And if Christie wins big enough to flip some seats, then two things will happen: Democrats may regret the way they abandoned Buono and highlighted their work with Christie, and Christie will have one more plank in his electability argument.

Because let's face it: Pollster Maurice Carroll of Quinnipiac is right.  The race for 2016 begins when the polls close at 8:01 p.m. 




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  Daily Muse: DOES CHRISTIE HAVE BAGGAGE THAT COULD HURT HIM IN 2016?

We've learned today that Gov. Chris Christie was on the shortest of short lists when it comes to being Mitt Romney's vice presidential nominee, and that Christie was crossed off because of too much baggage:

From the New York Times, writing about the new book  "Double Down: Game Change 2012" :

Mr. Romney included the blunt-talking governor on his vice-presidential shortlist, crossed him off, reconsidered choosing him and then ultimately decided that he could not pick Mr. Christie. Mr. Romney made the decision not only because of the fund-raising restrictions Mr. Christie would face as the governor of New Jersey, but also because Mr. Christie did not offer the same amount of information to Mr. Romney’s team of vetters as the other potential vice-presidential picks.

According to a memo on Mr. Christie from the vetting team, it had unanswered questions on a defamation lawsuit against the governor from earlier in his political career, on a Securities and Exchange Commission settlement involving Mr. Christie’s brother, on names and documentation of his household help, on information from his time as a securities industry lobbyist, and on his medical history. “The dossier on the Garden State governor’s background was littered with potential land mines,” the authors write.

Asked to respond, an aide to Mr. Christie arranged for Beth Myers, who oversaw the vice-presidential search for Mr. Romney, to issue a statement on Thursday that read: “Governor Christie complied fully with the Romney campaign’s request for documents in a timely manner, including a complete medical report from his internist and cardiologist.”

So, will those same issues haunt Christie if he runs for president in 2016? 

Given that one of Christie's chief selling points to Republicans has been will be that he can win, he'll have to have answers to those questions that the Romney team raised for Republican donors to come on board. 



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  Daily Muse: CORY BOOKER, ACTION HERO

So Cory Booker is being sworn in as a U.S. senator today, and what do you think his focus will be?

The economy? Jobs? Syria? NSA spying? Obamacare?

Apparently not.

From the Asbury Park Press:

As Newark’s mayor, Cory Booker became known for a hands-on approach to governing. He invited residents without power after superstorm Sandy to stay at his home. He responded to a neighbor’s house fire and delivered diapers to a snowed-in resident.

Booker says New Jersey voters who sent him to the U.S. Senate in a special election two weeks ago can expect more of the same. He will be sworn in to office today by Vice President Joe Biden at the U.S. Capitol.

“I’m going to run around the state like I did running around the city as mayor,’’ Booker said. “People were surprised to see me roaming around in police cruisers my first year in office until midnight or 1 or 2 o’clock. I think I’ll be running around to all four corners of our state looking to serve people in very practical ways to show them I’m hard-working, very involved, and will work above and beyond the call of duty.’’

So, if we are to read that literally, does that mean we should xpedt to see Booker roaming around the sate in a state police cruiser, looking for people to rescue from burning buildings?  In snowstorms, will he be hopping from county to county, looking for residents to help shovel snow from their car?

Of course, Booker will be spending most of his time in Washington, so we would think that his acts of derring-do in New Jersey would be limited.

Unless, of course, he plans on sweeping into New Jersey in the middle of the night,  rescuing cats from trees at night and then jetting back to D.C. in the morning.

Actually, we're hoping that Booker is just speaking in hyperbole, and knows that his focus has to be on policy, and righting America's ship, not being an action hero.

Although, actually, if he goes to Washington and helps improve the tone, if he goes to Washington and helps to get things done, if he works across the aisle, if he puts people ahead of party, well the, he might be an action hero after all.



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  Daily Muse: A YEAR LATER, STILL MOVING ON

One year ago today, New Jersey changed forever.

It’s sounds like such a cliché, except this time, it’s not just hyperbole, it’s truth.  

The Jersey Shore after Sandy  is a caricature of what it once was.

Sure the boardwalks are back.  Many of the businesses are back.

But the people, the neighborhoods, the communities that once called the shore home are still missing in far too many towns.

Empty lots stand where houses once stood.  Trailer parks line streets in front of demolished homes.  Vacant houses stay waiting for their owner to decide whether to rebuild, or walk away. Stilts are replacing front stoops.

This is the Jersey Shore of today.

This is the Jersey Shore beyond the boardwalk, beyond the headlines.

There are thousands of people displaced, still living with family or friends, or rental housing, just waiting to get home. Just waiting for a check from FEMA, from insurance, from somewhere that will help them rebuild.

There are thousands of others adrift, still not knowing where to go, unsure of what to do next.

A year ago, the state was on edge, waiting for the storm to hit.

A year later, the state is moving on, even while thousands of its residents are held back, by  memories, by fear, still unable to shake what happened one year ago.

Gov. Chris Christie hasn’t been held back; if anything, the storm propelled him forward.  The images of him after the storm, emotional yet determined, cemented his image as a leader.

(Ironic, isn’t it, that in Christie’s first year, he was criticized for staying away during a blizzard and abandoning the state? By the time Sandy hit,  he’d learned his lesson. And then some.)

We’re not the first to note that the storm, and Christie’s response to it, turned his re-election prospects from a competitive race to a shore bet. His sky-high approval ratings scared more than one potential Democrat away.

And now, a year later, he stands poised to rack up a victory of 20 points or more.

Whether he can carry that through nationally remains to be seen. Sandy, of course, cuts both way for the governor.  It not only gave him a national profile as a leader, but his infamous embrace of Obama also helped propel his image – and message – that he was a bipartisan leader who put people before party.

Of course, that embrace also enraged some Republican conservatives, only deepening their distrust of Christie.

But all that will play itself out in 2015 and 2016, should Christie decide to jump into the race.

But we know more about Christie now than we did before Sandy, just like we know more about ourselves. As a state, we all mourned what was lost, staring in disbelief at so much that was familiar that was now just gone.

But we didn’t wait for help, we just did, determined to move forward. Volunteers banded together to help dig out, towns started rebuilding boardwalks and businesses. Everywhere the message was the same: Let’s restore what we can, the best we can.

What could have been a sense of overwhelming loss instead became a sense of determination, of not giving in, of not giving up, of not letting the storm beat us.

A year later, we still have a along way to go.

But we’re on the path, and that says something.



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  Daily Muse: DOES CHRISTIE WANT A REPUBLICAN LEGISLATURE?

IT's 10 days until Election Day, Gov. Chris Christie is somewhere between 20 and 30 points up in the polls, and what's been missing from the campaign trail?

Any evidence that Christie is looking to bring Republicans to Trenton with him. In other words, the emperor doesn't seem to have any interest in having any coattails.

Even though Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. insists to any one who will listen that the Republicans will take control of the Senate, this much is clear: If the GOP does pick up any seats, it will be without the help of the Republian governor.

Sure, Christie's been raising money for the Republicans. But that's far different than having Christie barnstorm key targeted districts, asking voters to help him elect Republican lawmakers so that he can enact his agenda in his second term.

But that would run counter to Christie's re-election (and 2016?) message that he is a bipartisan leader, that he's been able to get his agenda passed by working across the aisle with Democratic leaders.

And therein lies the rub.

It's hard not to wonder how Christie's message might be different if hw was thinking -- and campaigning -- with just Trenton in mind.

It seems evident that Christie's re-election campaign strategy has been focused on boosting his brand as a bipartisan reformer and leader who will reach across the aisle to get things done.  It also seems evident that is his 2016 campaign strategy as well.

Christie will never win the 2016 GOP nomination if he tries to solely to win over conservatives who are already leery of his conservative bonafides and still haven't forgiven him for his bear hug of Obama just before the 2012 presidential election.

It seems that Christie's campaign team (both 2013 and 2016) has decided that for Christie to win, he has to appeal to those Republicans who just want to win in 2016. Who want to nominate a candidate who can appeal not just to Republicans, but to independents and disaffected Democrats as well. 

Under that scenario, it makes no sense for the governor to travel around the state, railing against Democrats and pushing for Republicans to take over the Legislature.

But here's a question we keep wondering: Steve Sweeney and Sheila Oliver are one thing.  But if Christie is successful, what common ground will he find with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid?

Of course, Christie partisans will counter that the governor was heavily invested in crafting a new legislative redistricting map, but that once Republicans lost that fight, the likelihood of the GOP retaking the Legislature became a pipe dream at best.

Which is true.

But it's hard not to think how different this campaign season might have been had Christie's eye just been focused on Trenton.''

There's been no talk from the governor of reshaping the court -- wihich was one of his 2010 passions and led to what may have been the biggest miscalculation of his gubernatorial career: his decision not to reappoint John Wallace to the Supreme Court and let him retire from the bench.

That move, of course, led to a four-year standoff with Democrats in the Senate over their refusal to approve his nominees to the court.

Had Christie been focused on Trenton, it's hard to see how he wouldn't have been campaigning against the out-of-control Supreme Court and the need for Republicans in the Senate as well. Republicans need to pick up 5 Senate seats to retake control -- a daunting task, but one that would have seemed much more likely had Christie put any energy into making it so.

But it's hard not to wonder whether, if, in the synergy needed for Christie to use 2013 as a springboard to 2016, choices had to be made, and something had to give.

And if one of those things was a Republican legislature.




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  Daily Muse: WHAT'S BEHIND CHRISTIE'S DECISION TO DROP GAY MARRIAGE APPEAL?

Such is the life of Gov. Chris Christie these days that everything he does is viewed in the prism of 2016.

His surprise decision Monday to drop his appeal of the gay marriage immediately was viewed in terms of how it would play in presidential politics.

(Such, by the way, is also the life of Christie these days that no one is really even talking about the impact of his decision on 2013.

His re-election is so expected that November is practically an afterthought.   But that's what you get when you're 29 up in the polls with just 2 weeks to go.)

ONe of the raps that state Sen. Barbara Buono has tried to use against Christie this year is that all his decisions have been made iwth an eye on 2016.

At first glance, it's hard to see how Christie's decision to drop the appeal benefits his presidential ambitions, particularly among conservative voters who are already leery of Christie.

From National Review
:

“This just adds more concern to those cautionary flags,” says Bob Vander Plaats, an Iowa social conservative. “Because not only is he backing away from a very principled stance of one-man-one-woman marriage, he’s also backing away from the Constitution and the separation of powers.” 

“It’s a huge issue,” Vander Plaats concludes. 

And Brian Brown, president of National Organization for Marriage, concurs. “I wouldn’t want to be going into Iowa and be a potential presidential candidate and be the one who refused to stand up to defend marriage in New Jersey,” he says. 

“You can give lip service to traditional marriage all you want,” Brown continues, “but when it counted, he did not do what was necessary. Do we have any illusions, given the nature of the decisoin, that there was a high likelihood that his appeal would succeed? No. But that’s irrelevant. You do what’s right regardless of the cost.”

And Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council said the following in a statement: 

We are glad that Gov. Christie vetoed the legislature’s attempt to redefine marriage, and that he was initially willing to defend the state’s marriage law in court. However, conservatives are looking for leaders who will sustain their commitment to unchanging principles. Combined with his signing of a radical bill to outlaw even voluntary sexual orientation change efforts with minors, today’s action has given conservatives serious pause about Gov. Christie’s reliability.

Christie had to know that dropping the appeal would anger social conservatives, especially considering that Iowa and South Carolina are the first two primary states.

But could it be that Christie is rolling the dice that gay marriage may not be such a hot-button issue in 2016?

CBS News thinks so:

Two of the three early primary states, Iowa and South Carolina, still have strong strains of social conservatism, "but the reality is most of these things have not been settled on social issues in a very long time," (GOP strategist Rick) Wilson said. "Most Americans have just stopped feeling this is a vital issue in their voting pattern. It's no longer what it was 10 years ago and it's certainly not what it was 20 years ago," he said.

Even in Iowa the issue has lost some of its resonance in just the last few years. In 2010, Iowa voters ousted three judges who had voted to legalize same-sex marriage in the state the year before. But when another one of those judges was up for reelection in 2012, voters chose to retain him.

It's a fast-moving issue across the country. In July, Gallup found that 52 percent of people surveyed said they would vote in favor of a law to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states, and 54 percent think same-sex marriages should be recognized as valid with the same rights as an opposite-sex marriage. As recently as 2009, that latter number was just 40 percent. In a few years, Christie's decision could be viewed favorably by the public, or he could even be hurt in a national election if he still opposes same-sex marriage.

To the extent that Republican primary voters care, GOP strategist Ron Bonjean said it's likely to reinforce whatever they already think about Christie. "Those that like him know he's opposed to same sex marriage and those that are against him will say that he should have done everything possible to prevent it," Bonjean said.

If we were to guess -- and what the heck, we will -- we think that Christie is refining/reinforcing his brand as the pragmatic compromiser in the race. After a month where Washington refused to negotiate or compromise out of its latest fiscal emergency.  Christie's re-election TV ads have all focused on his ability to compromise with Democrats  to get things done.

His decision to drop the appeal, when the court seemed certain to rule against him, could be seen as a continuation of that brand.  Christie, unlike Republicans in Washington who wanted to defund Obamacare, chose to abandon the fight, rather than spend tax dollars on a losing cause.

If Christie believes that America is looking for leaders who are willing to focus on getting things done rather than partisanship, his decision to drop the appeal makes sense in light of 2016.  The Washington Post has already dubbed him the anti-Ted Cruz.

It could well be that Monday may well be seen as one of the pivotal mo,ents in Christie's expected presidential campaign.


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  Daily Muse: LESSONS AFTER LONEGAN

Are there any takeaways from the U.S. Senate contest between Cory Booker and Steve Lonegan?

Two days later, the conventional wisdom is that the government shutdown killed Lonegan's momentum, that Booker underperformed, and that voters still want to be asked for their vote.

But what about the lessons that New Jersey, not to mention national, Republicans can take from Lonegan's campaign?

For one,  Lonegan didn't shy away from going after the more popular Booker, and he didn't try to run away or hide his beliefs.

For a blue state like New Jersey, the conventional wisdom was that Booker would squash Lonegan by more than 20 points.  Instead, the race was much tighter, and might have even been tighter still, had the government shutdown not happened. 

Lonegan is blaming the shutdown for stopping his surge, and that may well be.  But still, you have to wonder, had the Republicans gone on the offensive against the Democrats, and laid the groundwork for the shutdown by focusing on the debt, or the  inequities of Obamacare -- such as the fact that senators and congressmen, and their staffs, receive subsidies, would it have been different?

And if the Republicans had stuck together, and not attacked each other, feeding into the Democrat narrative that the Tea Party was a bunch of hostage takers looking to shut down the government, would it have been different then?

Even national columnists, like Dave Weigel at Slate, took notice of Lonegan's campaign:

The lesson Lonegan et al are trying to teach is that Republicans need to shoot out the knees of Democrats by making their most unpopular positions famous. "Booker in disarray" is the preferred media narrative of this race, but that doesn't account for how the guy is still winning, still miles ahead of Lonegan on favorability. The real story is that Lonegan, the first truly right-wing nominee the state party's nominated since 2001, ran away from none of his positions and mocked Booker in ways that startled the media. That's proved to be more effective than trying to squeeze out Booker from the center, and marginally weakened a candidate whom no moderate Republican ever wanted to challenge.

Bottom line: Lonegan was probably never going to win in New Jersey.But he wasn't afraid to be the aggressor, and challenge his opponent.  For all his talk of bipartisanship, you don't see Chris Christie being a wallflower on the political stage, or failing to attack Democrats when necessary. There's a lesson there for Republicans. The question is: Will they learn it?


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  Daily Muse: BOOKER WINS SENATE SEAT

The Assoicated Press has just declared Cory Booker the winner of the speical election to fill the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Frank Latuenberg.  With 55 percent of precincts in, Booker was leading Republican Steve Lonegan 55% to 44%.


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  Daily Muse: SENATE RACE DOWN TO 10 POINTS, REFERENDUM ON BOOKER'S CAMPAIGN

You have to give Steve Lonegan this.

No one thought he would make this a race.  No one predicted that he would be 10 points down in the latest Monmouth University poll with two days to go. 

Everyone expected him to say something outrageous, and he didn't disappoint, as when he said this sound bite heard round the world:

Lonegan’s most controversial comment came while advocating for a rollback of government environmental regulations.

“You may not be able to swim in that river, but it’s probably, I think, because of all the bodies floating around from shooting victims in your city” he said to Booker.

“Oh, my God. Oh, my God,” a stunned Booker replied.

(Of course, no one expected that the most outrageous things would be said by Lonegan's campaign manager, Rick Shaftan, or that Lonegan would fire him.)

Now the other interesting thing about this race is that the polls say that most New Jerseyans think Lonegan is out of step with their views.  So then what explains the poll?

What appears to be happening in this race is something that politicians forget at their peril: Voters don't like to taken for granted. They don't appreciate candidates who act as though they don't have to ask for support.

The latest Monmouth Poll found that 48 percent of New Jerseyans thought Booker was running to be on the national stage or to serve New Jersey.  Forty-eight percent said the national stage, just 37 percent said New Jersey.

And why would New Jerseyans think anything else?  Booker spent much of this campaign out in California, hobnobbing with celebrities.  His campaign schedule had numerous empty days.  He didn't seem to understand that you actually have to ask voters for their support until a few weeks ago, when the polls started to tighten.  

You never got the sense that Booker understood that this was an election, not  a coronation.

Lonegan, on the other hand, has been running a grassroots campaign across the state, meeting with as many voters as he can in settings both large and small. He brought in some high-powered coservative support: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and on Sunday, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin stopped by and rallied some 2,000 New Jerseyans to go out and vote for Lonegan.

“Something big is happening here; it’s called momentum,” Palin said to an enthusiastic crowd. “The country knows it, the media knows it.” 

The big unknown in this race is turnout:  A special election on Wednesday is unusual; many voters may not realize the race is this week, and the general consensus is that only the most committed will show up.

Democrats will point to the outstanding GOTV effort that Booker had in the primary as proof that his voters will show up on Wednesday.  And that may well be.

But Lonegan's voters are also committed, and looking to send a message to Washington. With the gubernatorial election seemingly not in doubt, the energy appears centered -- for now at least -- on the Senate contest. 

The other variable in this contest is that Booker's support, while wide, does not appear deep. Lonegan, on the other hand, does not appear to have as widespread support, but his followers seem to view this race as more of a calling, than just an election.

There's just two days to go in a race that has been anything but typical.  But here's what appears to be certain:  This race is going to be a referendum, not so much on Lonegan, but on Booker -- and the fact that no one likes being taken for granted.

Especially not New Jersey voters.



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  Daily Muse: CORY BOOKER'S CAMPAIGN-LESS CAMPAIGN

Does Cory Booker think that he doesn't have to campaign for his Senate seat?

We ask, because he certainly has been low key in his campaigning.

So low key, in fact, that on a day when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emauel was supposed to come in to campaign for him in Jersey City, Booker was on the West Coast, hobnobbing with celebrities. (Of course, that event got cancelled after 13 people were shot in Chicago, but still, but still, the point remains.)  And it happened again when he couldn't campaign with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, because he was out of state with his celebrity pals then too.

It's almost like Booker is the candidate who wasn't. It's too bad the out-of-staters can't vote for him for Senate.

If we think about the news that Booker has made so far, there's been plenty of conversation about whether or not he's gay, his online flirtations over Twitter with a stripper in Seattle (which some say may or may not be related to point on3), his involvement with an Internet start up company that he didn't declare until after it was reported, his ownership of an abandoned building,  questions about T-Bone and whether Booker was there when a boy was killed, about his separation agreement from a former law firm that wasn't declared until it was reported, etc., etc.

Then you have Republican Steve Lonegan, who has been written off by every professional and quasi-profession pundit, who's been out there pounding Booker's record every chance he gets, sometimes even in Newark itself.

And now, according to the latest Quinnipiac Poll, instead of a coronation, we may suddenly have a race.  Lonegan is 12 points down in the latest Quinnipiac Poll -- still a large hurdle, but nowhere near as formidable as it had been. 

"Maybe that 'show horse vs. work horse' charge from Republican Steve Lonegan is having an impact," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "While we can't make a direct comparison between registered voters and likely voters, Mayor Cory Booker did have a 54 - 29 percent registered voter lead over Lonegan in Quinnipiac University's August 7 pre-primary survey."

Now maybe this is a fluke. Maybe the next poll will show Booker with another big lead.

Or maybe, just maybe, this is just the starkest example yet of how Booker is taking this race for granted.  That he viewed it as a cakewalk, one that he didn't really  have to do any campaigning for.  One that he would win by just showing up. 

One where he could give "guv love" to Gov. Chris Christie, even though he supports the governor's opponent, and his fellow Democrat, Barbara Buono.

Now, one might have thought that last week's Quinnipiac Poll might have caused Booker some worry, might have caused him to step up his campaign a bit. But that's not the case. He's remained at his leisurely pace, just about one campaign event a day.  He's offered little in the way of a platform, and even less reason why he should be New Jersey's senator.

Other than he's a Democrat, he has friends in Hollywood, and he's really good on Twitter.

Now, all that may be enough to put Booker over the edge.  He may still win, even if he doesn't campaign. But Lonegan's out there too, keeping up the pressure. Tomorrow, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is coming in to support him.  Two weeks ago, it was Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

The thing about special elections is, usually only the faithful turn up.  Lonegan's people will go to the polls.  Cory Booker has given his supporters no real reaon to vote for him.  Will they show up anyway? 

For that's the thing about elections.  People want to feel that you're asking for their vote.  In Booker's case, it's more like he's expecting it. That he's taking it for granted.  That you are merely a formality on his way to a glowing Senate career. Maybe even to the White House one day.

Vice President Joe Biden is expected to come to New Jersey on Oct. 11 and campaign for Booker. The question of the day is, Will Booker even show up? Here's the more important question that should keep the mayor up at night.  Will Booker's voters even show up on Election Day.

The fact that either are a question tells you all you need to know why Lonegan is suddenly just 12 points down.


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  Daily Muse: CAN BUONO FOLLOW WHITMAN'S PLAYBOOK?

The last time a  woman ran for governor, the polls weren't kind to her either.

At thos point in 1993, a New York Times poll came out that showed her 23 points down to then Gov. Jim Florio, whose hated $2.8 billion tax hike had caused a public revolt. Just two years ealier, voters had punished Democrats for that hike in thepolls, leaving the Seanate with so few members  that then John Lynch used to laugh that his caucus could meet in a phone booth.

That Times poll showing Florio cruising to victory sent such shock waves that Whitman overhauled her campaign, bringing in Ed Rollins as campaign manager, and made the 30 percent income tax cut the cornerstone of her pitch to voters.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Fast forward 20 years later, and state Sen. Barbara Buono is struggling mightily for votes.  A new Quinnipiac Poll  of likely voters shows her now 34 points down to Gov. Chris Christie, and trailing Christie by a 2 to 1 margin on almost every issue.


So how bad is it for Buono?

From Quinnipiac:

Christie leads 61 - 32 percent among women and 69 - 26 percent among men, 94 - 3 percent among Republicans and 69 - 23 percent among independent voters. Democrats back Sen. Buono 60 - 35 percent.

Only 5 percent of likely voters are undecided and another 8 percent who name a candidate say there is a "good chance" they will change their mind in the next six weeks.

"There's no silver lining for State Sen. Barbara Buono in the cloudy outlook for her campaign," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

"Even a third of Democrats prefer Gov. Christopher Christie. And, although the Buono campaign and Buono's political background are big on women's issues, even women favor Christie. So do men. There's not even a very big gender gap."

...

New Jersey likely voters give Christie a 67 - 27 percent favorability, including a split 45 - 47 percent favorability among Democrats.

Buono gets a negative 23 - 36 percent favorability, with 40 percent who don't know enough about her to form an opinion.

Christie also leads on enthusiasm, as 57 percent of his supporters are "very enthusiastic," with 33 percent "somewhat enthusiastic. Only 35 percent of Buono supports are "very enthusiastic," with 47 percent "somewhat enthusiastic."

The governor would do a better job than the challenger controlling property taxes, voters say 62 - 19 percent. Democrats are divided as 38 percent pick Buono and 35 percent name Christie.

Christie also would do a better job improving the state's economy, voters say 65 - 22 percent, with Democrats backing Buono 45 - 38 percent.


"A lot of New Jersey voters still don't know Sen. Barbara Buono," Carroll said. "That could be a good thing because among those who know her, more don't like her.

"Christie dominates the challenger 3-1 or more on two important issues, property taxes and the economy, getting a respectable share of Democratic support as well."

Ouch.

So can Buono resurrect her campaign, like Whitman did back in 1993?

Buono faces some challenges that Whitman didn't have.  First, the public likes Christie; they did not like Florio.  Second, despite that, there  were not a lot of Democratic defections to Whitman, as there are now to Buono.  

This poll comes after a spate of recent polls showed Buono narrowing the gap a bit, to 20 points. But it also comes after a barrage of Christie negative ads that try to define her as a Jon Corzine liberal who raises taxes and fees on the public while at the same time, voting to give herself a pay raise. It also came after that massive Seaside Heights boardwalk fire, where Christie was everywhere, reminding the public about his performance in office after Sandy.

Buono doesn't have the money to respond in ads of her own

What saved Whitman in the end was her 30 percent tax cut proposal. It reminded people of why they disliked Florio, and gave.her a platform to run on.

Is there an issue out there that Buono can focus on to galvanize voters?

At first blush, you'd think New Jersey's hated property taxes could be that issue. A new Associated Press survey found that under Christie, property taxes have risen 13 percent during his first term. mostly because he didn't restore the property tax rebates program:

The net household property tax burden in New Jersey rose 13 percent during Gov. Chris Christie's first three years in office — a number that reflects both his success in reining in local government spending and his inability to restore a relief program that was gutted by his predecessor during the Great Recession, an Associated Press analysis of tax data has found.

The growth is only slightly lower than it was in the last three years of Democrat Jon Corzine's time as governor, when the net tax bill went up 15 percent.

But it reflects a different approach: Christie, a Republican, has gone further to force local governments to keep costs down — and give them help doing it. Corzine also tried to control local government costs but did much of his work on trying to control taxes by expanding a rebate program, which he then cut.

In other words, while Christie didn't restore the rebate program, he enacted a 2% property tax cap that has liited the year over year property tax hikes that homeowners see in their bills -- which is likely why he has that 62 to 19 percent advantage over Buono on property taxes.

So far, Buono hasn't introduced a comprehensive plan to reduce property taxes, other than to propose reinstating the millionaire's tax to pay for the property tax rebate program.

If Buono wants to turn this around, she's going to have to develop some bold policy that will captivate the public enough to want to toss Christie out of office.

So far she hasn't found one, spending most of her time trying to shore up her based with reliably progressive proposals.

But she can't win the election on Democratic votes alone -- and she definitely can't win if independents are flocking to her opponent by a greater than 2-1 margin.

In 1993, Whitman got a bad poll and revamped her campaign.

The challenge now is on Buono.  And the clock is ticking.




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  Daily Muse: LOST CAUSES

At 2:41 p.m. Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz took the floor of the Senate, promising to talk against Obamacare until he can no longer stand.

He did it with the support of only a handful of his fellow Republicans.  He did it even though the likelihood of success was nil.

Yet he did it, giving voice to the all those Americans who are worried about Obamacare, whose health insurance has changed as a result, and not as a better, or who suddenly found themselves working 29.5 hours because their company no longer wanted to provide health insurance.

And yet, it appears that some of his fellow Republicans are angrier at Cruz than the Democrats.  They're concerned that Cruz's tactic might result in a government shutdown, and that Republicans will be blamed.

Question: Do Republicans want to stop Obamacare, or don't they?  If the polls are right, and Americans are opposed to Obamacare, who's to say that Americans wouldn't support this effort to defund it.

So right now, Cruz is talking. And talking:
In the speech's first hour, Cruz compared his fight to standing up to Nazi Germany in the 1930s, to the British in the Revolutionary War, and the Soviet Union in the Space Race.

"So, we get to Obamacare," Cruz said. "What do all those voices say? Can't be stopped. You can't win. Cannot defund it.

"By any measure, Obamacare is a far less intimidating foe than those that I have discussed, with the possible exception of the moon. The moon might be as intimidating as Obamacare."

But is anyone in Washington listening?

In watching Cruz, its hard not to think about that scene in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where an exhausted Jimmy Stewart speaks to his mentor, Sen. Joseph Paine, and the rest of the Senate about the importance of fighting for lost causes:

You people don't know about lost causes. Mr Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for. And he fought for them once, for the only reason any man ever fights for them. because of just one plain simple rule, Love thy neighbor ... You know you fight for the lost causes harder for any other. Yes, you even die for them."



You can watch Jimmy Stewart talk about lost causes here.

But talk is just talk. This is a moment for all those Republicans who got electied promising to overturn Obamacare to join Cruz on the Senate floor and keep talking against the law. It is so rare to see someone in Washington to stand up for their conviction that it's refreshing to watch Cruz keep talking. And fighting.

He may not win.  He probably will lose. He probably, unfortunately, will not stop Obamacare.

But it's great to see him try.  Because Sen. Smith is right. Lost causes are the ones worth fighting for.


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  Daily Muse: IS THIS CAMPAIGN STRATEGY?

We get that Barbara Buono is still trying to shore up her base.

What we don't get is why -- on the same day she was headed to the Shore, to do some politicking with folks in Monmouth and Ocean counties, you know, where Republicans and Tea Partiers live -- that she would double down on an offensive post mocking those same Tea Partiers.

Apparently, early Friday, Buono's campaign set out a Tweet using a derogatory term for the Tea Party. The Star Ledger recounts the details:

Buono’s tweet — published and removed this morning — is preserved on a Sunlight Foundation website that saves deleted tweets from politicians.

“BREAKING: House teabags express relief that they were able to cut food stamps before leaving for their next vacation,” reads the Tweet, which was originally published by the presidential parody Twitter handle “Barracks O’Bama.”

“Teabagging” is a reference to a sexual practice that critics of the tea party movement use to deride the activists.

If you don't know what tea bagging is, look it up.

But then, hours later, the campaign re-tweeted the same post, putting it up again.  Here's how David Turner, campaign spokesman, described it to the Ledger:

David Turner, a spokesman for Buono, said the accident was not re-tweeting the remark but removing it. The campaign then re-tweeted it again.

"It was mistakenly taken down. Tea partiers in the House of Representatives have once again shown that they care little for the well-being of low income Americans and it is downright shameful," Turner said, referring to a house vote to decrease funding for food stamps.

Buono chose today to also visit the Shore communities of Little Egg Harbor and Keansburg, to talk with folks still suffering from superstorm Sandy, and to use the occasion to once again blast Christie for the "Stronger than the Storm" television advertising campaign that featured the governor and his family in a commercial.

Perhaps the Buono campaign forgot that it was Monmouth County where the Tea Party ousted Republican establishment candidates in 2010. Or that the Tea Party has several chapters in Monmouth and Ocean counties. Or that Christie rolled up huge pluralities in those counties in 2009, and is looking to surpass that effort this time around.

But if Buono hopes to cut into those margins, or peel away some Christie voters, using derogatory terms for people who live in those counties, or who may support that group's mission, doesn't seem to be the smartest way to campaign.

But it's decisions like those that might help explain why Buono is consistently 20 points or more down in the polls.



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  Daily Muse: FRIENDS CAN BUY INK BY THE BARREL TOO

You know that old saying, about how it never makes sense to get into an argument with someone who buys their ink by the barrel?

Well, the opposite is also true. 

And in 2013, think the National Review and Steve Lonegan.

The conservative magazine, which is already suing Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the city and the police department for information on a story Booker often tells about a drug dealer named T-Bone and the death of Wazn Miller, whom Booker has said died in his arms.  A few days after National Review filed suite, the records were turned over.  And as Slate's Dave Weigel noted, those records didn't entirely support Booker's account:


National Review asked for documentation where none had been offered. And the document confirms the gist of Booker's story while failing to confirm the most gruesome details.

Screen shot 2013-09-12 at 5.58.27 PM

Booker was there, but according to the police, someone else was holding Miller.

Screen shot 2013-09-12 at 6.03.23 PM

Booker referred to "three bullet holes in his chest and one in his side." The report makes reference to two shots, one bullet, and several holes.

Screen shot 2013-09-12 at 6.05.04 PM

Maybe we can spot Booker on the number of bullet holes—that probably was confusing in the moment. And it's highly doubtful that "Booker merely helped at the scene after a boy was shot to death" is the sort of story that's going to take him down, or the sort of story Republicans wanted. He's not a fabulist. But did he exagerrate? In another context more familiar to statewide politics—maybe if he was a war veteran saying a soldier died in his arms when the soldier died in somebody else's—that would be a scandal. National Reviewhad the right instinct here, asking for all the details.

Now, National Review is questioning Booker about a vacant property he bough in 2009 and sold to a nonprofit in March, noting how the property is littered and seems to run counter to an ordinance Booker signed in 2011, requiring homeowners to register vacant properties with the city. Booker apparently never did so:

The Vacant Property Ordinance requires the owners of an abandoned building to secure it against unauthorized entry and affix a sign indicating the name, address, and telephone number of the owner or an authorized agent as well as the person responsible for the day-to-day supervision and management of the building, until the building is “again legally occupied or demolished or until repair or rehabilitation of the building is complete.” It cites the “severe harm to the health, safety and general welfare of the community, including diminution of neighboring property values, increased risk of fire, and potential increases in criminal activity and public health risk” posed by abandoned properties. The initial cost for registering vacant property is $500, with the fee climbing to $5,000 after the second annual renewal. 

Booker’s campaign, through spokesman Kevin Griffis,told the Bergen Record that the mayor bought the Court Street building with the intention of renovating it and moving in, but found a lower-cost option on nearby Longworth Street. Public records show that Booker purchased the home at 19 Longworth Street for $171,000 in October 2011, nearly two years after he closed on the Court Street house. The home was in foreclosure and put up for auction by HSBC Bank; its value plummeted after the previous occupant was murdered in the front driveway and HSBC took ownership of the property. Records indicate it sold for nearly $300,000 in 2004 and then for $450,000 the following year.

 

Booker currently lives in a third residence and plans to move to Longworth Street “soon,” according to Griffis. That home is not listed on Booker’s Senate financial-disclosure report under section IIIB, which requires the candidate to list interests with a value exceeding $1,000.

Will any of this change the trajectory of the race? Probably not, with Booker continuing to hold a commanding lead over Republican Steve Lonegan.  Heck, Booker reportedly met today with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, But the mythology that is Cory Booker has probably been irreversibly tarnished.



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  Daily Muse: CHRISTIE'S SEPTEMBER SURPRISE

Is there a luckier politician than Gov. Chris Christie?

Just as his approval ratings started dropping from the sky-high 70s back into the 60s, just as  his lead diminished from 30 points to 20, here comes the Seaside fire to remind people what they like about Christie in the first place.

If nothing else, Christis is a decider.  He's excellent at taking charge in a crisis.

Long gone is the governor who felt it was more important to stay at Walt Disney World than it was to return home to New Jersey and take charge in a blizzard.

If nothing else, Christie learned this lesson: If you're in charge, people want to see  you be in charge.

Not from thousands of miles away, but from right here at home.

So there Christie was, just hours after the fire started, pledging to help rebuild teh devastated Seaside boardwalk.  He was supposed to go with Florida to be with his wife to celebrate her birthday, but Christie cancelled, deciding New Jersey needed him.

He wouldn't cancel his plans to stand with Rand Paul, but he was there at Bubba's Dog House. And Kohr's ice cream.   And all those boardwalk businesses in between. 

In watching Christie handle these crises back home, you get a sense of what kind of president he would be. Hint: He wouldn't be out giving a partisan speech while the bodies were being counted and a  hunt was on for a killer in the Washington Naval Yard.

It's that kind of take charge persona, which people both love and hate about Christie, that likely gave him the lead, albeit small, in the most recent CNN presidential preference poll.

People like a leader. They like someone who's not afraid to take a stand, who does what he or she thinks is best.

But for Barbara Buono, it's the worst of all worlds.  Not only did the fire drown out all the news coverage -- not to mention  her campaign -- but it highlighted Christie's strengths.

Politicians are always dreading the October surprise, but in this case, the surprise came in September. But either way, the outcome was he same. Buono's still looking for a way to her message heard.

The last thing she needed was an event that would remind voters why they liked the other guy in the first place.


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  Daily Muse: STILL LOOKIJNG FOR THAT LIGHT

Today was not a 9/11 day.

It’s hot, muggy; the heat is oppressive, even   Sept. 11, 2001, was bright blue, a clear sky, the perfect kind of September day.

Until, of course, it wasn’t.

Twelve years after that horrible, horrible day, where are we?  Are we demonstrably better off? Are we safer?  Do we have, to quote the president last year on the campaign trail, al-Qaida on the run?

Sadly, the answer appears to be no.

Today, the names were read aloud. The bells tolled again at those fateful times, the moments the planes crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, the field in Shanksville, Pa. The moments the two towers fell.

The moments 2,977 of our fellow citizens were killed.

By 19 cowards. Nineteeen terrorists who died for a cause as hollow, as morally bankrupt as those men were.

And  yet, where are we today?  We  have an administration that refers to terror attacks as man-caused disasters.

Who called the murders at Fort Hood, Texas by a radical Islamist who also happened to be a military psychiatrist as workplace violence.

And who have yet to take one action against anyone who killed those four Americans at Benghazi, Libya, just one year ago.

Have we gotten anywhere? Are we any closer to the day when we don’t have to worry about terrorism?

The president’s supporters point out that during his administration, more terrorists were killed than were under George W. Bush.

And that may well be true.

But under this administration, we have no justice for Benghazi.  We have no clear idea of what we are doing in Syria – except to promise the world that whatever we do, it will be “unbelievably small.”

How many of America’s enemies werer quaking from that threat?

During his speech last night, the president made his case as to why we should strke Syria, and then promptly took it off the table.  He said we would hope that the Russian initiative would eliminate the need for war.

Because, of course, Russia has always had our back.  Russia has always  our best interests at heart..

What could possibly go wrong?

Back during last year’s presidential campaign, long before the infamous hug, Gov. Chris Christie used to say that if President Barack Obama was in a dark room, and couldn’t find the light switch of leadership.

Tonight, the twin lights will pierce the night sky at the World Trade Center site,  serving as a beacon for those lost, and a reminder of what happened that terrible day, all that we’ve lost, and all that we have still to protect..

And for too many Americans, it’s a reminder that the president still seems like he can't find that lightswitch yet.




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