Can Phil Murphy do what other New Jersey governors have done: deliver county chairs to his preferred candidate for president in 2020?
If Cory Booker decides to seek the Democratic nomination, it’s a moot issue. Booker won’t have to worry about New Jersey. But if he doesn’t run, Murphy may want to bring along some party leaders to amplify his own endorsement.
The obstacle for Murphy is that right now, there’s not one County Chairman who will pick a horse in the presidential race just because Murphy says so. Some – maybe as many of five – are gettable for the governor, but not for sure. And none of those five are premier Democratic counties – they are in parts of the state where Republicans hold all county government posts, at least as of now.
There is a block of ten counties that Murphy clearly can’t just deliver – eleven, if Brian Stack wins his bid for Hudson County Democratic Chairman.
Bergen County Democratic Chairman Louis Stellato isn’t deliverable. He’ll make his own decision after consulting with his own party leadership. Joe Ferriero was important enough in 2008 that Hillary Clinton came to Bergen County for his endorsement announcement. The same goes for LeRoy Jones in Essex – Murphy’s recommendation might be important, but it’s hardly automatic. One of the reason for Jones’ popularity among Essex Democrats, one insider says, is that he respects his numerous constituencies and will seek their input before making a personal endorsement.
The Passaic County Democratic Chairman is John Currie, who is also Murphy’s state party chairman, but he will make his decision independently, one source said. The call in Mercer belongs to County Executive Brian Hughes, and Monmouth will be largely influenced by State Sen. Vin Gopal. Like Bergen and Essex, they may wind up where Murphy does, but not because they’re told to.
A month after Chris Christie endorsed Mitt Romney for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, all 21 Republican County Chairmen also endorsed Romney. So did 14 of the 16 GOP State Senators and 37 of 41 Republicans in the State Assembly.
Jim McGreevey endorsed Howard Dean in 2004 and delivered fourteen Democratic County Chairmen on the same day: Ferriero in Bergen, Charlotte DeFilippo in Union, Bernie Kenny in Hudson, Joe Spicuzzo in Middlesex, Rich McGrath in Mercer, Victor Scudiery in Monmouth; Michael Angelini in Gloucester Charles Cart in Sussex, Chuck Chiarello in Atlantic, David Del Vecchio in Hunterdon, Brenda Hall in Salem, Roger Hines in Warren, Elia Pelios in Somerset, and Jim Pickering in Cape May.
The worst defeat for a sitting governor in a presidential primary was in 1976. Brendan Byrne endorsed Jimmy Carter, but a slate of uncommitted delegates run by Democratic State Chairman/State Sen. James Dugan (D-Bayonne) won 83 of New Jersey’s 108 delegates. Dugan, working with U.S. Senator Harrison Williams and New Jersey AFL-CIO president Charles Marciante, wanted the ability to steer the nomination to Hubert Humphrey or Jerry Brown at the convention.