Skip to comments.Jersey Lessons -- What Schundler did wrong.
Posted on 11/07/2001 7:55:11 PM PST by Ziva
By Rick Shaftan, president, Neighborhood Research/Mountaintop Media
ompassionate Conservatism bombs again in New Jersey.
With a message designed to "reach out to minorities in the inner cities," Bret Schundler joined a legion of other Republicans who failed at trying to reinvent the wheel. Schundler got exactly the same 42 percent vote G. W. Bush received last year almost exactly district by district and proved once again that Republican efforts to attract urban black votes are counterproductive.
Schundler's message of "empowerment" didn't attract black votes and turned off the white, Catholic, suburban men. And without the energized white, Catholic, suburban male vote, you cannot win as a conservative in a state like New Jersey. That's why as many as a third of conservatives pulled the Democratic lever yesterday and many, particularly in the northwest counties, stayed home.
After running an excellent primary election, Schundler made a number of mistakes:
1) Pandering to the Franks voters. All the Tom Keans, Bob Franks, Don DiFrancescos, Christie Whitmans, and other liberal Republicans added up to only 130,000 votes 20,000 fewer votes than third-party candidates Murray Sabrin and Rich Pezzullo won in 1997. Once the Franks party machine was defeated they had proven to the world their powerlessness. But the Schundler campaign didn't get the message, spending half their effort trying to win just five percent of the electorate. This might explain why exit polls were showing 30 percent of conservatives voting for McGreevey.
2) Not helping Bill Schluter, the independent running for governor, get matching funds. With two liberal candidates in the debates, McGreevey would have had to watch his left flank for defections to Schluter, making it easier for Schundler to define McGreevey as a liberal. Early polling indicated that Schluter's votes would have come overwhelmingly from McGreevey.
3) Mishandling the gun issue. Pennsylvania and Connecticut have the same "right to carry" laws that Schundler first said he supported, then said he didn't. Changing his position was bad enough, but the obsession with being defensive on guns and repeating it in virtually every ad, debate, and campaign appearance had to keep 10,000-20,000 gun owners home or maybe even voting for McGreevey especially those gun owners who are also union members.
4) Being afraid of the right-to-life issue. Exit polls show that voters who voted on the abortion issue supported Schundler by more than 10 points, yet the Schundler campaign refused to attack McGreevey on his radical abortion stance, a move that might have helped boost numbers in solidly pro-life areas.
5) Letting McGreevey define himself as a moderate. Schundler's passive press office did nothing while newspaper articles repeatedly referred to McGreevey as a "moderate" or "centrist" Democrat. One survey showed that only 23 percent of voters thought McGreevey was a liberal while 42 percent said he was "moderate." Amazingly (or maybe not), 13 percent said that Schundler was a liberal. McGreevey won 5-1 among those voters who thought him a moderate and 4-1 among those who thought him a conservative (8 percent). There's nothing wrong with being a right-wing extremist as long as the other guy is a left-wing extremist. You cannot win as a conservative if you do not define your opponent as a liberal. And you cannot define your opponent as a liberal unless you are a conservative to begin with.
6) Panic and react. More gripes about the press office. No one really paid much attention to the Saturday article in September where Schundler criticized DiFrancesco's handling of the September 11th attack until the Schundler campaign verbally attacked the reporter who wrote it, calling attention to a gaffe that no one would have noticed. Another time, Schundler said he would sign a law that has 80 percent support ending government-funded abortions. The panicky reactive press office immediately put out a statement saying it wasn't true, which not only became a news story in itself, but a bad one.
7) The obsession with the black vote. Bret Schundler went to the left of McGreevey on the racial profiling and attacked him for "not hiring enough minorities in Woodbridge" (on the Bob Grant show of all places.) For this, Schundler won 12 percent of the black vote. This proves once more that Bush won in spite of "compassionate conservatism" not because of it.
8) Failure to target men. Men are the Republican base and Schundler's obsession with "gender gap" issues like gun control showed why men weren't energized enough to try to convince their wives to vote for Schundler.
9) Mail and phones instead of TV and radio.Whoever came up with this strategy was really responsible for the debacle. And what few TV ads were run were weak and pathetic. The mail was awful, wordy, and ridiculous.
10) Closing "on a positive note."Schundler ended with a wimpy ad featuring an endorsement from someone from out of state (Giuliani); fitting for a campaign that held most of its big fundraisers out of state.
11) Taking the summer off.McGreevey hustled all summer and showed that he wanted to win more. By early October, instead of being a pro-abortion liberal, McGreevey was a moderate-to-conservative Democrat.
12) Pathetic fundraising.All last night I heard people whining that, "we didn't have the money." There's no excuse for an arm breaker like Bret Schundler, who could raise millions as mayor and various pet projects, to not raise tens of millions or more as the Republican nominee. The fundraising should have started primary night when he had a captive audience fueled with adrenaline and alcohol, ready to break out checks and credit cards. There was no reason why the Schundler campaign shouldn't have raised the maximum in two weeks.
13) The debates.After scoring a near knockout in the first debate, Schundler got progressively worse until he completely bombed in the only primetime debate. And who could blow the "ask your opponent a question" question? I've never seen a candidate lead with his opponent's main issue and manage to offend both sides of the issue and do it again and again. Guns. Guns. Guns.
14) Mishandling the education issue. To Schundler, "education" meant urban education and school choice. This does not appeal to either the suburban parent who lives 30 miles from Jersey City or the Jersey City parent who doesn't want Our Lady of Victories opened up to everyone from Ward F who walks in with a voucher. There's a reason why immigrants from all over the world send their kids to Jersey City Catholic schools and it doesn't have to do with the religious training. Completely unaddressed was Christie Whitman's troublesome "core curriculum." On hot-button issues, Schundler was silent.
The lesson? Republicans should secure the base first. Energize them and they will come out on Election Day. Reinventing the wheel isn't worth the time or effort.
Socialists have a far larger margin of error. They make a mistake or have a history of supporting an issue which polls badly, the media cover it up, whereas with conservatives the issue is magnified, distorted and put in heavy rotation.
Schundler was also sandbagged by a lot of Republican party hacks whose power was endangered by his small government proposals.
Schundler did absolutely the right thing in reaching to minorities. Many, if not most, blacks hold socially conservative views. It is imperative to get them on board.
Hopefully, Schundler remains visible in these next four years and continues to reach out to blacks. I suspect McGreevy & the Dems are going to make things much worse in NJ.
While I think that Republicans should continue to reach out to minorities, we need to do it in two ways. First and foremost, we can not take positions alien to our core philosophy "just to" get minorities to vote for us. They won't. We need to reach out to minorities using our basic philosophies of lower taxes (more money for you and your family); better educational choices (you should have a bigger voice in your child's education); more opportunities and jobs (eliminate regulations that are barriers to employment); etc.
Second, don't talk down to minorities. Minorities are Americans (otherwise they shouldn't be voting). Don't single them out or make them feel different. We are AMERICANS FIRST, and hispanic or black or Irish or Italian SECOND. If they want us to talk about race, they are never going to vote for us. For example, children need a good education. Not black children or white children, but ALL children.
Blacks do not vote for Republicans. Maybe someday they will realize that the Democrats are USING THEM TO STAY IN POWER, but right now, overwhelmingly, they hate Republicans and they will not change anytime soon. We DO need to reach out to Hispanics and Asians, but in the manner described above. (Of course, I'm here in California where politics is a little different than the rest of the free world.)
Finally, I wholeheartedly agree: do not neglect your base. Think of the definition of "base": it implies a foundation on which to build. If the base is not in place, the building will crumble. When we talk to minorities or those who disagree with us on abortion or guns or any other issue that is part of our CORE, we talk to them with respect and strength. We do not equivocate, we do not bend, but we are always respectful -- and we should always be better prepared than our opponent. We do ourselves a disservice when we only talk with like-minded people. We need to know the arguments against us so we have an intelligent, thoughtful -- AND SHORT -- answer when confronted.
When conservatives realize this, we will start winning.
DiFrancesco's mob is not going to be easy to take care of, and Bret will have to be PERFECT in the rematch on `05. Let Bob Franks, who stood with Bret, take on the Torch. I think we ought to back a moderate who is a team player, the way Franks is. He may not vote with us all the time, but at the same time, every Rat Senator we knock off in 2002 improves our chances of keeping Daschle as minority leader.
Bob Franks is not a RINO, IMO. He is a moderate Republican, yes, but not a RINO like Warner and DiFrancesco.
But what the establishment GOP in NJ did to a very honest, decent and intelligent fellow -- who I think might be an excellent national candidate -- frosts me.
Bret made mistakes, but the NJ RINOs were as bad a problem, if not worse.
Bret had other problems too. Sep't 11 hurt him. He was competing for news attention. He didn't have the money to spend on getting his name out. But he energized the right people. The fact that he beat Franks should tell ya something. He worked hard for the primary and he had a lot against him. Including party leadership. But he pulled it off. But the fences were never mended within the Party leadership.
As far as his message. I think he did ok. Most understood he is pro-life, limited gun laws, vouchers and so on. I think the voucher issue hurt him the most. At least in Bergen county, which is very republican.
The Lesson...you need money (lots of it) and party unity. To get the money, you need party unity. To have party unity, you need money (or the likelyhood to be able to raise big money).
I just cann't why the Schundler Campaign did not hire Rick? It doesn't make any sense.
That's the reason the rest of the Republican establishment didn't support Schundler. Not only did NJ voters decide that Schundler didn't represent them, the Republicans didn't even see him as one of their own. The Republican establishment is made up of the suburban voters that are almost embarrassed of Jersey City and wouldn't dare let their kids go there.
Whitman ran as a moderate "compassionate" conservative in NJ and won. Why? Not only because of Florio's unpopularity, but also because Whitman was seen as "one of our own" by most suburban NJ voters. People took a look at McGreevey and thought, "he's like us," but they couldn't say that about Schundler.
I think we need candidates who are not only conservative but who can clearly communicate why they believe what they do.