The newest chapter in the New Jersey gubernatorial race has begun, with Republican nominee Chris Christie now facing the task of winning over swing voters in this Democratic state, while simultaneously holding on to his right-wing base.
Christie announced yesterday that he was picking Monmouth County Sheriff Kim Guadagno, the first female sheriff of her county, as his running mate in the first-ever New Jersey gubernatorial race that features the newly-created office of Lieutenant Governor. (Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine has not yet announced his own pick.)
Here’s the wrinkle, though: Guadagno is pro-choice, while Christie is pro-life. This actually makes sense in a lot of ways, as New Jersey is a socially liberal state where pro-life candidates don’t perform well. The last Republican to win statewide, Gov. Christie Whitman in the 1990s, is herself a pro-choicer.
But the state GOP has swung very much to the right over the last few years — the same period in which it saw a steep decline and lost a bunch of key offices. Now former gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan, who challenged Christie from the right in the Republican primary, is calling Guadagno’s position a “big disappointment.”
Lonegan also criticized pro-life groups for having stayed neutral in the primary, and not endorsing his insurgent campaign. “I guarantee you unequivocally, I would have chosen a good, solid pro-life lieutenant governor that reflected my views,” said Lonegan. “So maybe this is an attempt for the political insiders to appeal to everybody, to pander to both sides.”
And now the head of New Jersey Right To Life is predicting that the group probably won’t endorse Christie.
As for whether Christie’s outreach to swing voters could work, the head of the state Planned Parenthood Action Committee seems to be downplaying that possibility: “We are sending her a candidate questionnaire today and look forward to learning more about her positions on these important issues. Unfortunately, we know that Chris Christie opposes a woman’s right to choose and has vowed to roll back reproductive rights if elected. And at the end of the day, you don’t get to cast a vote for her without voting for him.”
Christie currently leads in the polls, but Corzine is sure to throw a lot of attacks linking Christie to the conservatism of the national GOP, and Christie will have to simultaneously assuage swing voters without alienating the base. It’s a tough balancing act, and the next few months will show whether Christie can pull it off.