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Gov. Phil Murphy. Photo by Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe

Somerset candidates attack opposition leadership

Candidates looking to make Murphy, Christie, Trump into campaign issues

By Nikita Biryukov, October 01 2019 5:36 pm

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Republicans and Democrats in Somerset County took potshots at the opposing party’s leadership Tuesday.

“The Murphy-Russo-Marano team threatens our quality of life by pushing to make New Jersey a sanctuary state and by searching for new ways to raise taxes on us,” Somerset County Freeholder Pat Walsh and sheriff candidate Bill Parenti said. “We’ll stand up and fight to keep Somerset County a safe and affordable place to live.”

Gov. Phil Murphy’s attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, last year issued a directive limiting how much local law enforcement agencies could cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Republicans in Somerset and elsewhere in the state have latched onto the issue in a bid to tie their Democratic opponents to Murphy, a progressive who may prove politically hazardous for Democratic candidates in tight races.

But, Somerset County Democratic Chairwoman Peg Schaffer isn’t buying the link.

“This is so stupid it’s making my head hurt,” Schaffer said. “Let’s set aside the flagrant race-baiting and lame attempt to tie existing policies to people who aren’t currently in office. Since they seem to think it’s perfectly appropriate to ask about standing up to a governor, how many times did they call on Chris Christie to alter course on behalf of Somerset County taxpayers?

Christie’s approval ratings were at their nadir towards the end of his term, and some Democrats believe the former governor may still harm Republicans at the ballot box.

Though, President Donald Trump is more likely to do that in 2019.

“How about if, instead of ducking the question like they did at the debate, Walsh and Parenti answer whether they are endorsing Trump for president in 2020?” Schaffer said. “The President is a major property owner in Somerset County, the leader of Walsh and Parenti’s Republican Party, and they’ve held multiple fundraisers at Trump golf courses instead of local businesses. But just like they never stood up to Christie, they’re playing from Trump’s playbook of race-baiting and distractions.

While Trump’s approvals remain strong among his Republican base in rural parts of the country, New Jersey voters have have long held a net-negative view of the president.

A Monmouth University poll released last week found just 34% said Trump didn’t deserve a second term, though those numbers were slightly better in Somerset.

Still, it’s 2019 and nether Murphy, Christie nor Trump are on the ballot this year, but public safety and taxes could still prove to be effective campaign issues.

“As law enforcement officers, it is our job to uphold the Constitution and protect our citizens,” Parenti said. “I call on my opponent to denounce the Governor’s sanctuary state directive and let our families sleep at ease knowing we won’t be releasing serious criminal offenders onto our streets.”

To that end, Walsh attacked Marano over her since-expired tenure as Green Brook’s mayor.

“Listen, the voters in Green Brook were not fooled by Melonie’s tax and spend policies. She was ousted as Mayor in nine months in a historic landslide,” said Walsh. “Of course she thinks a rain tax is a good idea – she’s never met a tax increase she didn’t agree with. Somerset County can’t afford a tax hiking politician like Melonie Marano.”

On that, Schaffer repeated a line Democrats have used before in this election, asking why Republicans were just now pointing an eye towards the county’s problems.

“And how about if they focus on their jobs? As a candidate Parenti is throwing out opioid plans for the future, but doesn’t even have a narcotics division in the Somerset town with the highest crime rate,” Schaffer said. “Walsh has been talking about economic growth for 25 years, but Green Brook has so many vacancies on Route 22 you can’t go 50 feet without running into a sign.”

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