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The Year of the Ground Game — and the Money

By David Wildstein, November 09 2018 1:08 pm

Special Edition: 2018 General Election
The Year of the Ground Game — and the money
(Editor’s Note: The names are listed randomly, so don’t read too much into it.  For the most part, candidates who won an election are not listed as winners and those who were unsuccessful are not among the losers — that kind of list would demonstrate a severe lack of creativity.  Instead, this list is about those who benefit or suffer because of the outcome of an election.)  

MICHAEL SOLIMAN DONALD TRUMP
Bob Menendez’s campaign chairman ran the toughest race in the state and won it by a landslide  margin despite more than $40 million spent by an opponent and a super PAC on mostly negative ads.  He deftly navigated through shark-infested waters and understood that the path to victory was through a ground game.  In his victory speech, Menendez called him “the greatest strategist in the state of New Jersey.” More than anyone else, the President of the United States impacted campaigns in New Jersey for United States Senate,  House of Representatives, County Clerk, Freeholder, Mayor and other municipal offices.  Democrats re-elected a U.S. Senator, hold 11 of 12 House seats.  The president has supporters in New Jersey, of course, but none of them seemed to represent a majority of voters in any real competitive race.
MOLLIE BINOTTO BOB HUGIN
Mikie Sherrill’s campaign manager excelled at every facet of this high profile campaign where expectations ran high almost from the start. She ran one of the best organized, well-financed and most sustained races in the state to pick up a seat the Republicans had held for 34 years and do it in a landslide.  And she assembled, almost to a person, one of the best staffs in New Jersey political history.   Note to Cory Booker: call her. The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate spent $36 million on his own money to win the same percentage Steve Lonegan got in 2013.  He was never able to sell himself to New Jersey voters, and while he campaigned as a different kind of Republican against an evil incumbent, he was never able to shed his ties to Donald Trump and the pharmaceutical industry that New Jerseyans inherently dislike.
ZACK CARROLL STEVEN FULOP
Andy Kim’s campaign manager won against what was easily the best Republican congressional race in the state with a well-executed game plan. The Democratic mayor of Jersey City sat out the 2018 campaign, so others did his job for him, rendering him completely irrelevent.
COLSTON REID BILL PALATUCCI
Tom Malinowski’s campaign manager was offered the job of running Josh Gottheimer’s race, but she wanted to flip a district against a Republican incumbent and ran a truly excellent race that involved an early fight for the Democratic nomination. The Republican National Committeeman from New Jersey was at Bob Hugin’s side from the start of the campaign and played a key role in developing the strategy that put Hugin, despite spending $36 million, about where Jeff Bell was for a whole lot less money.
NED MILLER BILL LAYTON
Jeff Van Drew’s campaign manager withstood a reasonably aggressive challenge for the Democratic nomination and then remained steady and calm during the constant drama of rival Seth Grossman’s run. The Burlington County Republican Chairman lost control of his freeholder board for at least the next two years — not really his fault and not unexpected — and the once powerful machine is in dire straights.
PHIL & TAMMY MURPHY RON DEFILIPPIS
The Governor and First Lady were a constant presence on the campaign, well received by crowds, and raised huge amounts of money for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot, in sharp contrast to a predecessor that did little to help candidates of his own party in New Jersey. The Morris County Republican Chairman lost two congressmen and a bunch of local races, raised practically no money, and had his mailing for local candidates hit on Election Day.  Worst of all: he took $37,000 from Bob Hugin and used $10,000 of it to pay back a loan he made to the party last year.
CORY BOOKER MELISSA DECASTRO
The Democratic U.S. Senator and possible presidential candidate spent lots of time in New Jersey making sure his friend and colleague Bob Menendez got re-elected, and helped Democrats pick up House seats and local offices.  At the same time, he raised more than $5 million for Democratic candidates and picked up scores of IOUs across the country. The Salem County freeholder who switched parties late last year to give Democrats control of county government got tossed by voters this year.  She lost by more than 1,000 votes, which in tiny Salem County is a landslide.  Republicans won both freeholder seats and will take control of the Board of Freeholders in January, as long as non one jumps ship again.
LEROY JONES AL GABURRO
The Essex County Democratic Chairman delivered Bob Menendez a 156,805 votes, a 77%-21% win.  Essex gave Menendez what Ocean, Monmouth and Morris gave Bob Hugin combined. The Somerset County Republican Chairman lost two freeholder seats — the first GOP countywide loss since 1979.  In January, his control of the Board of Freeholders will be 3-2, with Democrats fighting again next year to take a majority.
AMY DEGISE TODD MITCHELL
The new Hudson County Democratic Chair had just five months to to learn the job and she delivered, building the party in the process.  She and her father, Tom, worked double-time to compensate for Steve Fulop’s absence, and showed they didn’t need him anyway. Leonard Lance’s chief of staff was the architect of the congressman’s plan to get re-elected to a sixth term.  Instead, New Jersey’s 7th district elected a Democrat to Congress for the first time since 1954 — when Lance was a 2-year-old resident of Hunterdon County.
KEVIN MCCABE NICHOLAS BRADY
The Middlesex County Democratic Chairman turned out suburban voters for Bob Menendez in numbers that made it appear as though he had some big urban machine. The 88-year-old former U.S. Senator from New Jersey contributed nearly $1 million to a super PAC created to tear apart Bob Menendez, the holder
NICHOLAS SCUTARI MARTIN PEREZ
The Union County Democratic Chairman delivered an impressive 50,000+ vote margin for Bob Menendez and picked up a congressional seat. Stick a fork in the New Jersey Latino Leadership Alliance because they are done.  An endorsement for Bob Hugin brought virtually no votes along with it.
LOUIS STELLATO THE (BERGEN) RECORD
The Bergen County Democratic Chairman delivered what may be (after provisionals) the largest number of votes for Democrats in the state, continuing a winning streak that is truly unreal. The Bergen County daily newspaper endorsed a candidate for sheriff who finished fourth and got 4% of the vote — evidence of the value of an editorial board endorsement from the once-influential paper.
RAS & MIDI BARKA GANNETT
The mayor of Newark and his brother showed the state that New Jersey’s largest city can turn out votes when they need to.  That enhances Newark’s bargaining power going forward. The chain of New Jersey daily newspapers made a corporate decision to save money and not report election results in their Wednesday morning print edition — a game-changer at the way the political class views the old media.
ADAM ALONSO CHRIS CHRISTIE
The Democratic strategist now has two big wins in a row: Murphy ’17 and now at the Democratic State Committee/Menendez for Senate, where he helped build a massively enhanced data base and central operation that helped keep a Senate seat, pickup 4 House seats, and win a large number of local races all over New Jersey. The former governor of New Jersey was the person who convinced Bob Hugin to run for Senate, even offering to appoint him to the seat if last year went in a different direction for the incumbent Senator.  He had his hands in a super PAC that spent millions and ended up with nothing.  And except for small party events in Morris & Middlesex, was not invited to campaign for GOP candidates.
HILARY BADGER RODNEY FRELINGHUYSEN
Thanks to Hillary Badger, Mikie Sherrill is on her way to making people mock Josh Gottheimer’s paltry fundraising numbers.  The amount of money Sherrill raised blew people away — in New Jersey and across the country. The outgoing 12-term congressman chickened out of his re-election bid at the end of January, setting up a short primary season and leaving his party’s candidate with a small window to raise money.  He’ll walk away from Congress with $500,000 in his account.
SAM RIVERS PETER MURPHY
Andy Kim’s finance director raised over $6 million for a candidate who told party leaders last year he thought he could raise $1 million. The Passaic County Republican Chairman, back after 17 years, loses his bid to keep the county clerk post in Republican hands.
ZACHARY TAYLOR CHRIS FUSCARINO
Tom Malinowski’s finance director didn’t just have a cool political name.  His fundraising skills allowed his challenger candidate to outpace a five-term incumbent  in every quarter. The executive director of Garden State Equality missed the boat by passing on endorsements for Andy Kim and Tom Malinowski — now Democratic congressmen-elect — and betting instead by making his top target the only Republican congressman who won.
ALEX MILOFSKY GLENN MORTIMER
The finance director for the Human Fundraising Machine helped intimidate stronger candidates out of the race, paving the way for a second term for a Democratic congressman in a Republican district. The Union County Republican Chairman is literally out of a job with the defeat of Leonard Lance.  Democrats picked up seats in Scotch Plains, Roselle Park, Summit, Berkeley Heights — and maybe New Providence, once the provisionals are counted.  But he held two seats in Mountainside.
AXEL OWEN WILDA DIAZ
In the Year of the Ground Game, Bob Menendez’s GOTV coordinator was gold. The mayor of Perth Amboy sees her council candidates go down the tubes.
RASHEIDA SMITH CELGENE
Bob Menendez’s field director made the ground game work, and with less resources than Democratic statewide candidates usually have.  She has now emerged as a superstar in New Jersey politics, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if some Democratic presidential candidate sends her into a swing state. Their had to be a reputation impact to the  Summit-based pharmaceutical giant with millions in ads spent in New Jersey making the company look like they had no heart or soul for raising drug prices “not once, not twice, but three times in one year.  Who does that?”
WENDY MARTINEZ GEORGE GILMORE
Bob Menendez’s Latino Base Vote director never worried about Bob Hugin’s attempt to flip Latino voters to him.  As it turns out, she was right. The Ocean County Republican Chairman was all in for Bob Hugin and Tom MacArthur.
MISSY BALMIR JOSE ARANGO
Bob Menendez’s Black Base Vote director executed a plan to substantially increase Black voter turnout The Hudson County Republican Chairman is the Star-Ledger of New Jersey politics: he’s not very good, but he keeps just showing up.
JEN GRISAFI ROLANDO BOBADILLA
Mikie Sherrill’s volunteer coordinator directed a massive navy of supporters — young and old — in one of the most volunteer-driven movements in a long time. The former Essex County freeholder jumped party lines to endorse Bob Hugin for U.S. Senate and brought practically no one along with him.
CHAZZ ADEN LUCILLE PANOS
Mikie Sherrill’s field director, another key player on a strong team, helped his candidate win towns that Rodney Frelinghuysen won 12 times. The Middlesex County Republican Chair recruited no candidates for local office in about 40% of all races for partisan office in the county.
RAPHAEL CHAVEZ-FERNANDEZ JOE ANDL
Mike Soliman’s protégé  served as deputy campaign manager for Menendez for Senate. The rising star is now ready for prime time. His party won control of county government despite the low-energy Burlington County Democratic Chairman.
NICK IACOVELLA LISA RICHFORD
Bob Hugin may have lost the election, but his press secretary did not. Iacovella is a fricking pit bull — that’s a compliment because its a valuable position every team needs — and there was no more fiercely aggressive advocate of a candidate than this guy. The Mercer County Republican Chair stood by and watched every Democrat win every race in every town in Mercer County — even in Hamilton, where Chris Smith lost for the first time since 1978.
ADAM SILVERSTEIN
The Bergen County-based political consultant and Lou Stellato’s right-hand man scores wins everywhere, again, as usual.
KELLY ZIMMERMAN
Andy Kim’s Field Director threaded the needle in a complicated district, turning out more votes in Burlington than Tom MacArthur got in Ocean.  She gets some credit for Democratic control of the Burlington County Board of Freeholders too.
JILL HIRSCH
Mikie Sherrill’s Political Director is another example of how the campaign recruited smart, committed people who easily figured out the intricacies of North Jersey politics and emerged as one of the state’s best campaign staffers.
KELLIE DOUCETT
The Harvard-trained Morris County activist became Mikie Sherrill’s Outreach and Constituency Coordinator and easily established herself as a skilled professional political operative.
JACKIE BURNS
Mikie Sherrill’s communications director exuded competence in a race where a first-time candidate attracted media attention nationally.
FORREST RILLING
Andy Kim’s always-working communications director was matched up against Chris Russell and Frank Luna, two of New Jersey’s best, and held his own.
BENJI SCHWARTZ
The Malinowski for Congress communications direct is smart, honest and understood the voice of his candidate.
JIM BEACH
The Camden County Democratic Chairman and State Senator  (and former County Clerk) sponsored the law that changed Vote-by-Mail in New Jersey — and played a key role in swinging at least two House seats and a bunch of local offices.
PHIL ALAGIA
The Democratic strategist helped Joe DiVincenzo break his own record with 81% of the vote, and played a major role in off-the-charts pluralities for Bob Menendez and Mikie Sherrill in Essex County.  And he won Roseland.
BRIAN STACK, NICK SACCO & RAVI BHALLA
The three Hudson County mayors all came through and produced huge numbers for Bob Menendez.
MITCHELE DRULIS
Every campaign that depends on talented young staffers to win needs at least one seasoned veteran with institutional knowledge in the room, a skill that made her invaluable to Tom Malinowski’s campaign for Congress.
MIKE MULLER
The Democratic political consultant scored a win by electing Jeff Van Drew to Congress. And because all politics is local, the Mount Laurel Democratic Municipal Chairman wins in his hometown too.
MONMOUTH UNIVERSITY & QUINNIPIAC UNIVERSITY
Patrick Murray cemented Monmouth University as the gold standard of New Jersey independent polls, and Quinnipiac has returned to the New Jersey scene to again be a major player.
MARIE BLISTAN
The NJEA president came through for Bob Menendez, Andy Kim and Mikie Sherrill.
LIZ GILBERT
The NJ Democratic State Committee executive director has worked with Phil & Tammy Murphy to put the state party on strong financial footing.
JOHN CURRIE
The Passaic Democratic County Chairman and Democratic State Chairman won everywhere: Bob Menendez, Mikie Sherrill, and county clerk-elect Danielle Ireland Imhof.
PHIL SWIBINSKI
The Democratic political consultant had a magic touch in 2018, winning everywhere.
DAVID MITCHELL
The leader of Patients for Affordable Drugs Action super PAC pumped millions into the New Jersey Senate race, helping to derail Bob Hugin before Menendez was ready to go up on TV himself.
MARY NOONAN
She’s been on Chris Smith’s staff since 1981 and again shepherded her candidate to a 20th term in Congress.  Smith got more votes than any NJ congressional candidate of either party this year.
ALLISON MURPHY
The longtime Jeff Van Drew chief of staff sees her boss elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
JAMES SOLOMON &
ROLANDO LAVARRO
The Jersey City councilmen stepped up when Steve Fulop sat down and helped deliver heavy turnout in Jersey City.
TOM DEGISE
The Hudson County Executive stepped up and led a ground game in Jersey City, and mentored his daughter, the new Hudson County Democratic Chairman.
KEVIN BROWN
The head of SEIU 32BJ played a key role in a bunch of winning races in 2018.
ANIBAL RAMOS &
SAM GONZALEZ
The Newark Ward Councilman and Democratic Municipal Chairman churned out votes for Democrats in the North and East Wards/
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4 thoughts on “The Year of the Ground Game — and the Money

  1. David, I don’t know if I agree Steve Fulop has been rendered “completely irrelevant”, that is a a bit over the top to say about a guy who controls a 3 million plus PAC. I do agree Fulop has a major credibility issue as well as a perception of being untrustworthy as exampled by his betrayal of previous Allies in order to put himself in a superior political position.

    Fulop has done well at this politics on his “attempted climb” out of Jersey City until he was scared out of the Gubernatorial Race (for whatever reason) and the most recent perfidy in which he turned on his friends at the HCDO, and lost. I guess we will see what wins, trust or money.

    1. Completely irrelevant as it pertains to the 2018 election. Menendez got 49,242 votes (85%) in Jersey City, without Fulop.

  2. In your commentary about Mary Noonan you said that “Smith got more votes than any NJ congressional candidate of either party this year.” In looking at the latest results as of Saturday evening, Smith received 159,965 votes, but Mikie Sherrill got 162,264. Norcross (163,948), Payne (166,886), and Coleman (168,253) had even higher totals in their one-sided victories.

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