N.J. Republicans spin Bush win for governor race

TRENTON — New Jersey Republican leaders tried yesterday to translate the re-election of President Bush, who lost in New Jersey, into momentum for next year’s gubernatorial race.

Despite not taking the erstwhile Democratic state, the GOP leaders relished that Bush’s New Jersey deficit — 16 percentage points in 2000 — had been cut to a 6 percentage point gap Tuesday.

“We took what was supposed to be a romp for Kerry,” said Sen. Joseph M. Kyrillos Jr., R-Monmouth, “and made it a very competitive, single-digit race.”

“I think it bodes well for next year,” said Kyrillos, whose term as state chairman of the Republican Party will end in the coming days. “I think it’s going to be a referendum on the way business is conducted at the state level.”

Dynamics of the 2005 primary depend significantly on whether U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie, who has made a name prosecuting corrupt government officials, seeks nomination. Christie did not respond to a phone call on the issue.

The campaign will begin quickly. Former Jersey City Mayor Bret D. Schundler, the nominee who lost to Gov. James E. McGreevey in 2001, will hold a fund-raising dinner with Jack Kemp Tuesday, then plans his “campaign kickoff” for Nov. 29.

Schundler’s spokesman, Sal Risalvato, dismissed the importance of Christie’s possible candidacy. “It’s not going to be Chris Christie, because Bret Schundler will beat Chris Christie.”

In Tuesday’s presidential election in New Jersey, with more votes left to count, Kerry had actually received 15,000 more votes than Al Gore did four years ago. But Bush increased his tally by more than 308,000.

The biggest changes were along the Shore. In Ocean County, Bush turned a 3,600 advantage into a bulge exceeding 51,000. Bush lost Monmouth County to Gore by 12,000, then surpassed Kerry there by roughly 30,000.

Bush’s smallest improvements were in Hunterdon and Somerset counties. His margins increased by 2 percentage points in both places, compared with 10 percent statewide.

Rutgers University political scientist Ingrid Reed said the Republicans’ showing Tuesday was an achievement, but she cautioned Republicans from thinking they can now beat up on the Democrats over McGreevey’s budgets, priorities and ethics.

“McGreevey seems to be in the past,” Reed said. “It seems as if New Jersey voters don’t want to settle just for blame. They really want to know what you are going to do about it.”

© copyright 2004 Gannett News Service