North Jersey shares an expensive media market with New York, where expensive September Democratic primaries often overlap with the New Jersey General election season. But political experts say that the upcoming gubernatorial primary between Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon will have little effect on Garden State politics this fall.
In New Jersey, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez faces a re-election fight with Republican Bob Hugin, an unknown pharmaceutical millionaire who is self-funding his campaign. He’s already up on the air with a targeted cable television buy. Menendez is a prolific fundraiser who has already won two statewide elections.
“If they’re smart, they won’t be spending a lot of money on broadcast buys before mid-September regardless of what’s happening in New York,” says Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “Candidates can temporarily raise their name ID with a heavy summer buy, but once they go off the air, the electorate forgets who they are.”
In 2017, self-funder Phil Murphy spent money on a contested primary campaign and ran TV ads in the summer. By early October, more than 40% of New Jersey voters still didn’t know who he was.
“There’s just too much noise to break through in a typical year,” Murray said. In that respect, I don’t think the Cuomo/Nixon matchup will make the situation much harder for northern NJ campaigns than it would have been otherwise.”
Ben Dworkin, the director of the Rowan University Institute for Public Policy & Citizenship, says that New Jersey candidates won’t make their strategic decisions based on the Cuomo vs. Nixon contest.
“From the Garden State politician’s perspective, you can’t control what the New Yorkers do, and so you just move ahead with your plan,” said Dworkin. “The vast majority of New Jersey political ads will come after the New York primary is over in September. So we shouldn’t expect much of a competition for air time.”
Murray thinks that campaigns should spend the summer cultivating supporters and not on massive ad buys.
“In the fall, we have a long history of New Jersey voters not really tuning in until sometime in October,” says Murray. “Congressional campaigns are better off with targeted cable buys.
Dworkin believes Menendez and Hugin will be up on the air over the summer but says that “the existence or lack of an expensive television air war by Cuomo and Nixon should have virtually no effect on the strategic decisions made by New Jersey’s candidates.
Murray also says that Nixon’s criticism of Cuomo on transit issues won’t transfer to New Jersey campaigns.
“It’s not clear right now exactly how many New Jerseyans look to Gateway as a top issue in their vote equation unless and until someone starts campaigning on it,” Murray said.