Home>Feature>Stomping Grounds: Murphy’s State of the State and polling numbers, McCarthy’s election as Speaker,

Stomping Grounds: Murphy’s State of the State and polling numbers, McCarthy’s election as Speaker,

By David Wildstein, January 13 2023 10:43 am

New Jerseyans aren’t always civil, but it’s still possible for a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican to have a rational and pleasant conversation about politics in the state.  Dan Bryan is a former senior advisor to Gov. Phil Murphy and now the owner of his own public affairs firm, and Alex Wilkes is an attorney and former executive director of America Rising PAC who advises Republican candidates in New Jersey and across the nation.  Dan and Alex are both experienced strategists who are currently in the room where high level decisions are made.  They will get together every week with New Jersey Globe editor David Wildstein to discuss politics and issues.

Question: Governor Murphy delivered his fifth State of the State address on Tuesday and one that seemed more about his legacy as governor than as a candidate for something else.   How did he do?

Dan: Usually the press is most interested in what news a Governor breaks during these big speeches. What’s most interesting to me is that despite a relative lack of “big news” in the speech, it was almost universally well received, by Trenton insiders, by members of the press, and by the general public.

Governor Murphy and his team are showing us what a successful second term Administration should look like. Rather than pivoting wildly to whatever shiny object comes next, he’s digging in on the big things, like fiscal responsibility, economic development, and continuing the hard work of a pandemic response long after many stopped paying attention.

There are, of course, those who had their reactions written before they heard the speech. Some said he abandoned his progressive values, some said he was too far left. Some said he’s only focused on corporate interests, some said he’s ignoring the needs of the business community. I’d say that if you’re taking criticism from the extremes on both sides, you’re probably doing something right.

Alex: Let’s be honest: Murphy hoped his lame joke about Ron DeSantis would raise his national profile and put an exclamation point on an otherwise lackluster speech and awkward delivery.  A simple scan of national media coverage demonstrates that it barely registered among Murphy’s natural press allies – let alone in Tallahassee. And why would it? Despite Murphy’s misleading claims, states like Florida are eating our lunch when it comes to job growth and business competitiveness.

Question: After 15 ballots, Kevin McCarthy was elected Speaker of the House early Saturday morning and it seems he had to make a bunch of deals with “Never Kevin” House members to get the job.  How hard will it be for him to govern, and will he be able to keep his word to everyone he made a promise to?

Alex: Two things can be true at once: 1) to the extent there were policy differences in the Speaker’s election, they should have been worked out ahead of time, and 2) many of the changes are good for the American people.

Giving more time to read bills, empowering individual members to offer amendments – are we really all that disappointed with those outcomes? I’m certainly not as a limited government conservative. I’m sure some of the upcoming legislative debates will still be susceptible to the petty, personal motivations we saw earlier this month, but that’s not reason enough to block reforms that ultimately benefit the American people.

And, sorry. I’m not really all that moved by comparisons to Nancy Pelosi and her chokehold on the Democratic caucus. Am I supposed to be impressed that one person from one district had the power to scare hundreds of other duly elected representatives with their own constituents into submission? Maybe we know now why Josh Gottheimer could never really deliver on SALT even with his party in power. Bottom line: the Speaker had simply amassed too much power over the years.

Dan: If Republicans really are worried about having too powerful a Speaker, they will love Kevin McCarthy. Long gone are the days of a cohesive majority and an effective leader – Speaker McCarthy will be lucky if he makes it to Labor Day.

I hope this upcoming Congress serves as a litmus test for the 2024 presidential election. Americans should judge last session’s Congress (one that passed historic bills on infrastructure, pandemic assistance, inflation reduction, health care affordability, and gun violence) against the upcoming Republican majority. Which party will go into 2024 looking more ready to govern, one that was led by Nancy Pelosi to consequential achievements and the best midterm for a sitting President in generations, or one being perilously led off of a cliff by the likes of Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and George Santos?

Question: A new Monmouth University poll showed Governor Phil Murphy with solid job approval ratings from New Jersey voters that are roughly the same as last year.  How will the governor’s popularity affect the midterm elections this year?

Dan: At +15, Governor Murphy is enjoying a sturdy popularity that most second term Governors (in New Jersey and beyond) strive for. That’s important for him and his administration, but it’s also important for Democrats in the Legislature as they look toward 2023’s midterm elections.

Rather than having to run from an unpopular incumbent, they can run on their partnership with the Governor and the many accomplishments they’ve achieved together. That said, a legislative midterm electorate will almost certainly not look much like the one that came out in 2022, which means Democrats throughout the state have a lot of work to do throughout this year to ensure success in November.

Alex: I think Governor Murphy’s approval rating is about what I would expect for a Democratic Governor in a blue state with a limited – and mostly uncritical – media market. The more telling point from that poll is that New Jerseyans mostly don’t believe that the Governor has accomplished much of anything. That’s a pretty weak launchpad for a presidential campaign.

Moreover, these steady approval ratings have also been paired with consistent losses in the legislature over the past few cycles. Murphy has no coattails, and Assembly and Senate Democrats know they have done nothing to make New Jersey more affordable or prosperous under their one-party rule. I would take cold comfort in this poll if I were a Democrat on the ballot this year.

Editor’s note: The New Jersey Globe extends our deepest condolences to Alex Wilkes and her family on the death of her grandfather, Dr. Henry F. Smith, MD on January 6 at age 96.  Dr. Smith served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and after taking a job as a sales manager for Armour Meats before putting himself through medical school.  He practiced medicine in northeast Pennsylvania from 1965 to 2013. 

Spread the news: