Tom Kean Jr doesn't seem to realize that it's Senator Bob Menendez he's challenging this year and not former Senator, now Governor Jon Corzine. Bill Albers of PoliticsNJ highlights the fact that Kean Jr's become something of a broken record when it comes to campaign messaging, not attacking something Menendez has said or done, but rather focusing on Governor Corzine's budget plans.
"It's a good message, and it's a safe one too," says a Republican consultant who insists that focusing on the tax issue will keep Kean out of a lot of trouble until after the June primary....
Not everyone seems to think hammering away on taxes is the best way to beat U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez in the fall campaign - as one key Democrat put it, New Jerseyans aren't burning Corzine in effigy in the streets like they did with Jim Florio fifteen years ago.
To understand what's going on here in New Jersey, it's helpful to have a bit of background on the state's budget problems. Essentially, a tax revolt against Democratic Governor Florio essentially ended his career, and made way for a Republican Governor who cut taxes, borrowed billions, and mostly maintained the status quo on spending. Ever since, Democrats in the state have been too nervous to actually do anything meaningful to right the state's financial ship. That is, until Governor Corzine, whose budget plans have been met with fear from politicians on both sides of the aisle, and begrudging acceptance, if not support, from state residents.
Kean Jr, who serves in the state Senate, thinks he's got a surefire winning issue in railing against the Corzine budget. After all, complaining about taxes worked in a statewide campaign for Christie Todd Whitman. And the strategy would make sense -- if Kean Jr was running for state office. But since he's running for the US Senate, it's a bit silly. Senator Menendez doesn't actually have anything to do with setting the state budget. It gets especially silly when Kean Jr shows that it's the only issue he can talk about.
Kean may even be showing a little too much discipline in staying on message, as evidenced today when he was asked a question dealing with the Environmental Protection Agency and local pollution.
A realtor in the audience asked the State Senator a question about increasing cancer rates in her community, and Kean began his answer by talking about taxes.
That anecdote speaks pretty much for itself.
There's been a lot of hype lately about this race being closer than many expected. Chris even called the state "already competitive" in his April Senate Forecast earlier today. Based on the polling, he's perfectly justified in that. However, there's reason to think that the polling is off. The two pollsters that have repeatedly shown Kean Jr in the lead were Rasmussen -- a Republican firm whose methods some have questioned -- and Fairleigh Dickinson -- whose polling of last year's gubernatorial race was wildly skewed in favor of the Republican candidate, Doug Forrester. While Chris pointed to other factors as to why the race is "not a 'likely pickup' for Republicans" (namely Menendez's fundraising advantage and "the large number of undecideds"), the odd polling further supports that conclusion for me.
Tom Kean Jr and the NJGOP are going to try to make this race a referendum about Jon Corzine and state taxes. They'll have to. Nationwide, the midterm election is likely to be a referendum about George W. Bush. In a state as progressive as New Jersey, it'll be a pretty daunting task to shift the focus off of Bush and onto the state budget, especially in an election for federal office. This race will definitely be at least somewhat competitive. But I'd suggest that anyone who's worried about it being very competitive ought to take a look at Kean Jr and his campaign. It's been decidedly less than thrilling.