I wrote the following essay after the June 2014 US Senate primary, which was not published by any of the state’s newspapers. In light of Christie’s new book, I thought I would make it available.
Behind the scenes of the GOP U.S. Senate primary
Jeff Bell won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate on June 3 despite not having won any of the county “lines,” the ballot position that signifies the endorsement of the party bosses and/or Party county committee members. The candidate with the most lines, businessman Brian Goldberg, came in third.
Mr. Goldberg raised virtually no money; had no message except reiterating on the campaign trail that he is a conservative and a loyal Republican. Yet at the Record editorial board meeting Mr. Goldberg tried to differentiate himself from the three other candidates, including me, stating he’s the only “moderate” in the race. He received the Record’s editorial endorsement on June 1.
So how did Mr. Goldberg woo these county chairman and county committee members even though he was the least experienced of the candidates and was told by Bill Layton, the Burlington county chairman, not to run for U.S. Senate but seek a town Council seat instead?
I entered the race after I had a conference call on February 10thwith Sen. Joe Kryillos who encouraged me to seek the nomination stating that I would be the best candidate in the field because of my extensive knowledge of economic and financial issues. In fact, Senator Kryillos said “the county chairman would be lucky to have me as the U.S. Senate candidate.”
Encouraged by Senator Kryillos remarks and my conversations with many of the Republican county chairmen and women, I was confident of winning many of the county lines. And on February 17 at the GOP Monmouth County Lincoln Day dinner, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadango thanked me for entering the race.
Was Lt. Gov. Guadango sending a signal that Gov. Christie was pleased that I was seeking the U.S. Senate nomination even though GOP State Party Chairman Sam Raia told me, the party is “neutral” in the race. But, after all, I endorsed Chris Christie in the 2009 gubernatorial primary race. Returning the favor was the least the governor could do.
On February 22 my opponents and I met at the Passaic County screening, where we each made a five-minute presentation followed by Q&A from the audience. Although no decision was going to be made that day about awarding line, I was confident based upon the feedback from the attendees that I had the inside track of getting the line when the executive committee was going to vote in about two weeks.
Before Passaic County was going to decide who would be awarded the line, Union County held its convention on March 1 at Kean University. In the reception area before the presentations and the vote awarding the line, I walked over to say hello to Bill Palatucci, the governor’s closest advisor, who didn’t say hello but said with a scowl on his face, “Have you ever written anything critical of Christie”? I was stunned by the question and responded that I write about issues on my blog, and do not remember every commentary about state issues.
Needless to say I found it very strange that Gov. Christie’s closest advisor would be at the convention. I soon realized that the fix might be in for the nomination even though state GOP officials professed that the governor and other high-ranking GOP officials were neutral in a selecting the U.S. Senate nominee.
The Union County convention awarded the line to Rich Pezullo even though he almost wasn’t nominated. In fact, one of the county committee members who agreed to nominate me was conspicuously silent from the floor of the convention.
After the Union County convention, we drove to the Ocean County screening committee where George Gilmore, the county chairman, and his colleagues focused on one issue, how much money I could raise for the general election. My answer was simple. As a longtime friend and supporter Ron Paul who raised $41 million in his last presidential campaign, I told the screening committee I was confident I would be able to raise several million dollars for the general election.
At the Ocean County convention on March 19, Brian Goldberg was awarded the line, a newcomer to New Jersey state politics. In the meantime, Passaic County also awarded him the line even though the county chairman John Traier supported me as well as enough people for me to be awarded the line. However, several of my supporters did not show up for the vote. Hmmm.
On March 18, Bill Layton, the Burlington County chairman, and I met and told me in his Trenton office that he was awarding me the line. Mr. Layton said would send over to paperwork to my campaign to sign so I could be awarded the line. On the drive home I called my political consultant and said this is the acid test. If Mr. Palatucci were working behind the scenes to undermine my candidacy, the paperwork would not be sent. Just as we suspected, the paperwork never came and Burlington County had an “open” primary. Someone got to Bill Layton.
Soon other counties started awarding their lines to Brian Goldberg, a candidate with no message, no fund-raising ability and as we now know according to one of his former staffers someone who allegedly violated campaign finance laws by using corporate funds to pay his staff.
During this time period, I had a brief conversation with Al Gaburo, the Somerset County chairman, who told me that he was told I was going to be awarded the line in voter rich Ocean County. So despite team Christie’s best effort to anoint Brian Goldberg the U.S. Senate nominee, Jeff Bell won the nomination despite not participating in the county conventions. In short, Mr. Palatucci did not achieve his goal, having the least experienced run against the “invincible” Cory Booker.
Why would the GOP insiders rally behind the scenes around the candidate who would be no match for Cory Booker in the general election? There was only one plausible explanation. Team Christie did not want to have a strong competitor against Cory Booker given the friendly relationship with the governor has had with the former Newark Mayor. In other words, Governor Christie and/or his advisors may prefer to have Cory Booker reelected instead of a conservative Republican win the seat.
More evidence that Governor Christie may be secretly rooting for Cory Booker. He did not call Jeff Bell to congratulate him on June 3. As head of the New Jersey Republican Party, Governor Christie should be overjoyed that a solid fiscal conservative would challenge our celebrity senator in the fall. Instead, Governor Christie’s behavior speaks volumes about his political strategy. It’s all about Chris Christie.