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Gov. Phil Murphy at a Middlesex County Democrats rally in East Brunswick on Nov. 4. (Photo by Nikita Biryukov)

In closing days, Democrats focus on Trump

By Nikita Biryukov, November 04 2018 8:52 pm

With the election in a scant two days, Democrats are trying to make the contest all about President Donald Trump.

At a rally of Middlesex County Democrats that featured speeches by Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman and Frank Pallone, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Gov. Phil Murphy, Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Bob Menendez, the need for Democrats to win races that would guarantee a check on Republicans’ control of the country.

“It has never mattered more,” Pallone said of the year’s election, repeating the tagline to Menendez’s campaign and echoing a similar call Watson Coleman made in her own speech.

That tagline is itself a message to Democrats typically disaffected in a year without a presidential election: Vote now or Republicans — meaning President Donald Trump — get to continue driving the country on a national level.

That the message has not been a universal one in New Jersey — Democratic candidates Mikie Sherrill and Andy Kim have largely tried to avoid raising the president as an issue in their historically-Republican districts.

Still, it’s one the state’s top Democrats hope will resonate in blue counties like Middlesex and Hudson, where there are no competitive House races to push up turnout among the party’s base.

Some Democrats have privately expressed worries that the lack of House races and, in Hudson’s case, competitive municipal races could leave voters in the Democratic strongholds without a reason to turn out.

Murphy, who has frequently taken up the torch for Menendez in recent days, echoed the calls he’s made on previous campaign stops in perhaps the clearest terms he’s yet used.

“Don’t let anyone kid you, particularly Hugin in the way he behaves. Donald Trump is on the ballot Tuesday,” Murphy said. “There’s no question about it. The question is what are we going to do about it, right? This is black and white. I’ve never been around an election where the choices were starker.”

The other worry for Menendez’s team in the coming election is that voters in counties like Morris, where two Republican House seats are facing competitive challenges, come out and cast their votes for Sherrill of Tom Malinowski but skip or, worse yet, flip their Senate vote.

To combat that possibility, Democrats have taken to two messages.

The first follows the same line of control of Congress. While Democrats face a narrower path to control of the Senate, it’s possible they pick up enough seats to win the upper chamber. That path narrows to a sliver if Bob Hugin beats out Menendez.

The second strategy simply encourages voters to go down the line on Nov. 6.

“Folks, this one’s black and white,” Murphy said. “You either vote for Bob and the whole slate or vote for the other guys.”

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