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Is Guadagno for Congress GOP’s best shot?

Former Lt. Gov. would be a formidable candidate in the 2nd Congressional District

By David Wildstein, January 04 2018 12:11 am

Other than her peculiar inclusion on a list of potential Republican successors to Rep. Frank LoBiondo, there is no evidence that soon-to-be former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno has any interest in running for the U.S. House of Representatives. Guadagno for Congress ’18 only comes up because Politics1.com, one of the top national sources for lists of potential candidates, has put Guadagno on their list for the second district House seat.

It might not be the worst idea. (I’ve had worse.) Republicans find themselves in the unfortunate situation of having a weak bench at the time the 71-year-old LoBiondo decided to retire. Democrats have someone they view as the perfect candidate: Jeff Van Drew, 64, a slightly right-of-center State Senator with a long history of winning Republican-leaning districts by vast margins.

Guadagno is coming off a statewide campaign – and eight years as Lt. Governor – that at least made her name recognizable to three-fourths of the voters. And nobody really dislikes her, except maybe the Governor and some members of their staffs. In 2017, she lost the towns in the LoBiondo district by 5,241 votes. That’s not so bad, considering it was a strongly Democratic cycle. Van Drew’s base is solid, but his legislative district is only about 30% of the House district.

Her best shot would be buyer’s remorse, if Phil Murphy gets off to a shaky start as Governor. Then it’s Van Drew who is left defending an unpopular Governor. Anybody who doesn’t believe that’s possible should ask Bill Bradley about his last re-election campaign.

There is a residency issue: Guadagno lives in Monmouth Beach, which is 53 miles away from the second district. Legally, that’s not a problem. The U.S. Constitution only requires a Member of Congress to live in the state they represent. She could run, win and serve without ever moving out of Monmouth County. Tom MacArthur emigrated 87 miles south to run in the third district, and still won.

In the gubernatorial primary, she had the local party organization endorsements in all eight counties that make up the second district.

Democrats outnumber Republicans by 15,673. But Donald Trump carried the district by four percentage points.

Guadagno’s candidacy is improbable – I’m told she wants to make some money and that she isn’t giving up on a 2021 rematch with Murphy. But maybe serving in Congress could enhance her chances of becoming Governor someday.

Still, the Republicans have no one. Five-term Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson is 71, and while he’s enormously popular (he won 63% in his last re-election campaign), he’s never shown any interest in any other public office.

Assemblyman Chris Brown will move up to the State Senate next week and is unlikely to run for Congress so quickly. Defeated former Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian just took a job as the Toms River Business Administrator. Former U.S. Marshal James Plousis, who used to be the Cape May Sheriff, was recently sworn in as the Chairman of the Casino Control Commission. Another reasonable contender is Frank Balles, who just retired after three terms as Atlantic County Sheriff. A year after winning 45% against State Sen. Jim Whelan, he was re-elected Sheriff with 59.5% of the vote.

One candidate the Republicans might look at is Matthew Levinson, the County Executive’s son. He served as Chairman of the Casino Control Commission, but got booted out by Gov. Chris Christie after his father had a falling out with the Governor. That could be to his advantage.

The reality here is that the best the GOP might hope for his Hirsh Singh, the son of a wealthy businessman who won 10% of the vote in the 2017 GOP gubernatorial primary.
This is the same situation Democrats faced in 1994, when ten-term Rep. Bill Hughes retired. The GOP had an acrimonious primary between then-Assemblyman LoBiondo, who came from Cumberland and represented Cape May, and powerhouse Atlantic County State Sen. Bill Gormley. The best the Democrats could come up for a seat they’d held for twenty years was Lou Magazzu, and LoBiondo romped to a 65% win. He’s never really faced a serious challenge.

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