Gubernatorial conference recaps campaign

by Jess Scanlon

Despite the snowy weather, the road to Trenton’s State House continues to run through Rider, said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics.

On Thursday and Friday of last week, the institute hosted its second annual Campaign Managers Conference, featuring members of both the Corzine and Christie campaign staffs. The conference gave participants a chance to hear “the key decision-makers look back at the 2009 New Jersey gubernatorial race,” according to the program. The event consisted of four sessions that covered everything from polls to the Independent candidate Chris Daggett to the media campaigns.

“People wanted change,” said Adam Geller, lead pollster for Gov. Chris Christie’s successful campaign, who led the first session, “Polling the Electorate.”

The 2009 New Jersey gubernatorial race was considered historic by many because the state tends to lean to the left, supporting both President Obama in the 2008 presidential election and Democratic candidate John Kerry in the 2004 race. Many of the panel participants said that despite the fact that its candidates “couldn’t compete financially” and faced an “onslaught of negative ads,” the Republican Party was successful. The Republican candidate, Christie, won by more than 86,000 votes.

“Voters were willing to give us the benefit of the doubt,” said Mike DuHaime, adviser to the Christie campaign.

Former Gov. Jon Corzine was unpopular in the state. At the Awareness Day event this past fall, members of the College Republicans passed out anti-Corzine stickers that were accepted by students affiliated with both parties.  The Corzine campaign knew that it would have a difficult time winning re-election, but was optimistic.

“I did think we were going to win,” said Maggie Moran, campaign manager for the Corzine campaign, during the second session, “Campaign Strategy.”
Controversies that sprouted during the campaign were also discussed in detail through all four sessions, most notably, the issue regarding mammograms.

The Christie campaign found itself in hot water when Christie emphatically explained to a cancer survivor that health insurance companies should deny mammograms to young women, even after she told him she been diagnosed with the disease in her twenties.

DuHaime spoke about how the ads that followed that incident hurt Christie’s numbers among female Independents and the need to “stop the bleeding.”  The Christie ad that responded to the claim was simply Christie at his kitchen table with his wife, Mary Pat Christie. He spoke honestly about how he felt about the issue and how that very procedure had saved his mother’s life.

Christie lacked a concrete plan for the state when he actually became governor. Brad Lawrence, media consultant for Corzine, addressed the issue in the final session and stated that this fact had most likely been in the victor’s favor.

“I don’t think anyone’s [campaign] won with a plan,” Lawrence said.

The Campaign Manager’s Conference was open to Rider students, as well as the public, at no cost, and was co-sponsored by Politics Magazine. Thursday attendance was low, most likely because of  the snow delay that morning and the fact that many of the roads were still unplowed, although Dworkin said there had been “significant interest” among students and the public. Local politicians attended as well, including Mercer County Freeholder Daniel R. Benson.

Friday’s sessions yielded a better turnout among both students and the public.  Those who attended learned about campaigns from the firsthand accounts of individuals who ran them. Speakers told anecdotes that were full of tension, drama and even humor.

After all of the analysis by the experts from both campaigns, there emerged two themes of the nature of politics in the state. One was the corruption and deficits that have been issues for many years. The other was that political campaigns are often marked by a good deal of mudslinging. The two-day event was best summed up by an offhand comment by Lawrence of the Corzine team.

“This is Jersey,” he said.

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