Here in New Jersey, politics is a contact sport and the participants are not shy about drawing blood. It's been this way throughout my adult lifetime and I don't expect it will ever change. It's just the way politics is done around here. Despite that, there are some places where Republicans fear to tread in this state.
We have elected Republican Governors in this state several times these last few decades, but often more as a rejection of the incumbent Democrat than as an endorsement of the Republican agenda. This is evidenced by the fact that despite the changing faces in the New Jersey Governor's chair over the last couple of decades or so, our state legislature is overwhelmingly Democratic and has been so for a very long time.
The Republican Party in New Jersey has traditionally been pretty anemic in terms of running candidates against a lot of New Jersey elected officials. A few elections ago, the GOP ran a candidate against Congressman Rush Holt in my home district. They did their best, but it was no contest. Rush Holt is well-loved and well-supported in our district because he's a great Congressman and he represents our district in a way that reflects the values of (most of) the people who live here. He won the race easily and I don't think there's been a credible candidate run against him since.
That's the kind of political climate we have here. This is a state that went for Obama by a fifteen point margin, a state that has a law protecting it's transgender and gender-variant citizens (as well as LGB, of course) from unjust discrimination, and a state that's expected to legalize gay marriage soon. There are a few conservative strongholds here, but generally speaking we're one of the most politically and socially liberal states in the union and I can tell you from personal experience that it does make a difference.
So you can imagine my surprise when I got something in my mail I'd never received before, even in the midst of the most heated political battles, a political mailer from the GOP decrying Governor Corzine's support of same-sex marriage rights. In the same batch of mail was a mailer from Garden State Equality with the opposing view. The next day, a letter from the New Jersey Stonewall Democrats on the same topic, signed by their President (and new DNC member) Babs Casbar Siperstein.
I know this kind of thing is common in other areas of the country, but this is a first in my memory. We get political mailers about taxes, property values, and highway tolls, we don't get them about social issues. In my experience, while it often takes them time and some pushing to get to where we in the community need them to be, there's a tendency in the New Jersey state legislature (read: the New Jersey Democratic Party) to lean toward inclusion and equal rights for all. It took a major political incident to get the transgender rights bill introduced in the New Jersey legislature after two years of being ignored despite strong support, but once introduced it passed overwhelmingly and was signed into law by Governor Corzine soon afterward.
While enjoying strong public support, same-sex marriage really just isn't a very important issue for most New Jersey voters. Issues like taxes, budgets, roads, and rooting out corruption in our government are of far more interest to most New Jersey voters. Those who believe Jim McGreevey was forced to step down as Governor because he's gay miss the point. McGreevey had to step down because he acted irresponsibly as Governor. The fact that he happened to be acting irresponsibly in regard to protecting and facilitating a gay relationship he was having was completely irrelevant to the question of his fitness for office, and I believe that's largely how it was seen here.
Chris Christie is really the first candidate to try to make same-sex marriage an election issue in this state, and personally I think it's a losing strategy. The bulk of the New Jersey electorate just doesn't care very much, if at all. Most are fine with same-sex marriage because they understand that while it has no real impact on their own lives, it's important to other people. It's still more evidence that the GOP hasn't gotten any more in tune with what New Jerseyans or even Americans in general are looking for in our elected leaders. In a nutshell, and without trying to sound like an elitist jerk, I'm proud to be able to say that we're better than that here in New Jersey, and our progressive and still-evolving civil rights laws prove it.
Still, nothing could have prepared me for last night. I pick up the phone and it's a robo-call from Sarah Palin endorsing Chris Christie. I guess it's a good thing it wasn't a real person because I couldn't stop laughing. It almost makes you wonder if Chris Christie is serious about wanting to be Governor. Does he honestly believe Sarah Palin is going to be popularly seen as credible in this state? It might work if he were running for Governor of Alabama or Texas, but hello, this is New Jersey, fifteen-frakking-points-to-Obama New Jersey. If the GOP really thinks a Palin endorsement has any traction here, we can rest assured they'll continue to be nothing more than a tiny minority party in this state.
I will frankly be stunned if Christie wins this, no matter how close the polls say it is. And if he does win, if a Republican can still win in New Jersey, we may all be in for a much tougher road ahead.