On October 16, New Jersey voters will elect either Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat, or Republican Steve Lonegan to fill the late Senator Frank Lautenburg’s vacant seat.
With Real Clear Politics reporting that Mayor Booker commands an average 19.3-point lead in recent polls, Mr. Lonegan clearly faces an uphill battle. And as a staunch Tea Party advocate in a state that, despite its adoration of Republican Governor Chris Christie, is not usually a hotbed of conservative politics, his chances of representing New Jersey in the United States Senate are slim.
Mr. Lonegan’s campaign has thus far catered to his party’s right wing, which helped him to secure the Republican nomination. Modeling himself after Governor Christie in his candid rhetoric, Mr. Lonegan admitted, “I’ll be as callous and uncaring as you can imagine. I have no interest in paying for your health care. I’d hate to see you get cancer, but that’s your problem, not mine.”
In this comment and in others, Mr. Lonegan definitely makes a practical point, and there is also definitely a large body of Americans who likely agree with and appreciate his bluntness. Yet he is not running for Senate in Alabama or Mississippi — he is running in a state that voted for President Obama’s reelection by almost 18 points. The magnitude of his polling deficit thus accurately depicts his chances in this election, and for other Republicans in similar states.
If the Republican Party is sincere about pursuing its new “50 State Strategy,” which seeks to increase focus and resources in areas that it has traditionally disregarded, then it must also sponsor candidates in those more liberal and moderate states who reflect the ideology of those states' electorates.
Many independents and moderate Democrats subscribe to principles that the Republicans promote. Many of them also, however, place a radical stigma on the Tea Party and its sponsored candidates. There are regions and elections in which conservative Tea Party candidates are viable. Yet in elections where Republicans are electorally disadvantaged to begin with, these candidates will not be successful.
Moreover, running particularly conservative candidates in traditionally blue or purple states will have an adverse affect on the prospects of future Republican candidates, regardless of how moderate they might be. Candidates such as Mr. Lonegan perpetuate the far-right stereotype that the Republican Party needs to abandon in moderate regions. Otherwise, non-Republicans will be continually alienated from the party.
Democrats, who are often admittedly aided by some infamously radical Republicans, have been successful in painting the Republican Party as stringently conservative and close-minded. It is thus imperative to future Republican success that the party run moderates in blue or purple states to dismiss this image and improve its credibility. Mr. Lonegan is by no means one of the radical Republicans who are sullying the party’s image. But because he is running in New Jersey, he is not doing enough to show that he is not one of those radicals, and therein lies the issue that Republicans face in national perception.