Republican congressional candidate Frank Pallotta charged the state was inflating its number of COVID-19 deaths so Gov. Phil Murphy would have an excuse to mandate a mostly-mail general election to boost Democrats at the polls during a tele-town hall Monday evening.
“I’m not an expert, but it appears to me that the overall state numbers have been inflated a great deal, and how do we know that? You know how many deaths that you’re going to get from respiratory illness, from the flu,” he said. “Those are pretty standard numbers that are predictable. If you look at the deaths related to the flu and other respiratory illnesses as opposed to COVID-19 or COVID-19-classified deaths, those flu deaths are down tremendously.”
So far, New Jersey has reported 14,316 lab-confirmed and 1,791 probable deaths related to COVID-19. Those counts have been revised downward on a handful of occasions. In all instances, officials said these revisions were to remove duplicates or to cut out-of-state cases that were added in error.
It’s not clear what drop in influenza deaths Pallotta is referring to. Deaths related to pneumonia and influenza are largely in line with previous years as of the end of February, before New Jersey’s first reported case of COVID-19.
Between the first week of last October and the last week of February, there were 1,598 reported flu- and pneumonia-related deaths in New Jersey, according to Centers for Disease Control Data. Over the same period in the previous flu season, there were 1,588 deaths related to influenza or pneumonia.
Pallotta charged Murphy maintained restrictions on businesses and gathers to he could give Democrats at the polls by mandating every active registered voter in the state receive a mail-in ballot.
“The data indicates we should be opened up almost fully at this point. The governor is keeping this state closed, in my mind, for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, vote by mail,” Pallotta said. “He’s keeping this state closed so he can push this vote by mail initiative down the throats of Republicans. Why? Because Democrats tend to vote by mail more than Republicans.”
While it’s true New Jersey Democrats tend to mail in their ballots more frequently than their Republicans counterparts, there’s no evidence that mail voting uniquely benefits Democrats.
Widespread mail-in voting tends to bump turnout slightly among both parties but does little to affect margins or increase a party’s share of turnout. It is true, however, that New Jersey’s Democratic organizations have put significantly more resources into their mail operations and may be better positioned to take advantage of widespread mail voting.
Pallotta’s hourlong townhall, about half of which was devoted to prepared remarks by Pallotta and surrogates, focused sharply on the governor’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
“He has almost carte blanche on keeping the state shut down and keeping this vote by mail in place. That’s the reason he’s doing it,” he said. “He’s a liar when he says it’s about the data, because the data means the state should be open, so either this guy has figured out he doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning in 2021 or there’s information out there that he’s not telling us.”
The former investment banker is seeking the fifth district’s congressional seat, and while Rep. Josh Gottheimer’s (D-Wyckoff) name came up bare handful of occasions, the attacks were far outweighed by those targeting a governor who has seen his approval ratings soar alongside the state’s virus case counts.
The tactic isn’t new to Pallotta, who had already launched multiple attacks at Murphy and incumbent House Democrats outside of his district since winning the Republican primary in July.
The challenger is now digging in and mounting his campaign in a way almost styled after President Donald Trump.
He’s all-in on hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial that Trump touted as a “game changer” early in the pandemic that the National Institutes of Health and World Health Organization abandoned as a treatment for the virus in June, the same month the Food and Drug Administration rescinded an emergency use authorization allowing the drug to be prescribed to COVID-19 patients.
Pallota is also on board with the president’s disdain for masks.
“I’m contemplating my first legislative move to be outlaw masks whenever this thing disappears,” he said.