Editor’s note: This appears courtesy of the New York Post.
Where is W.?
As supporters of New Jersey’s GOP gubernatorial nominee Bret Schundler gathered at Manhattan’s 21 Club for an intimate fundraising luncheon Monday, many wondered when Air Force One might deliver the secret weapon that could spell victory. After donating roughly $100,000 to the cause, about 65 Schundlerites dined on crab cakes and steak and urged Washington to send help on the way.
“I think the president would put it over the top,” former Buffalo congressman and 1996 GOP vice-presidential nominee Jack Kemp told me. He urged President Bush to stump with Schundler despite White House worries that the War on Terror precludes Bush from performing his domestic duty to support Republican candidates. Kemp added: “I don’t think this is going to be a reflection on President Bush at all if he were to say that we really need a man like Bret Schundler to be governor of New Jersey.”
A Bush visit could reverse a recent slip in Schundler’s poll numbers. In a Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday, 35 percent of likely voters backed Schundler compared to 52 percent for Democratic nominee Jim McGreevey, mayor of Woodbridge. Schundler’s campaign manager, Bill Pascoe, notes that “Christie Whitman was 12 down the Sunday before the election” in 1993. Two days later, she beat incumbent Democrat Jim Florio.
Meanwhile, Schundler’s bandwagon is growing crowded. “In this crisis, New Jersey just can’t afford to raise taxes,” Mayor Rudy Giuliani declares in a TV commercial launched Tuesday night. “Now more than ever, you need a proven leader who will protect jobs and keep families safe. You need my friend, Bret Schundler.”
Actor and author Ben Stein spoofs McGreevey’s tax record in another ad. Sponsored by the Club for Growth and National Federation of Independent Business, the spot chides McGreevey for voting as a state senator to raise taxes on income, gasoline, and even pizza.
A $1 million dollar campaign coordinated among Schundler’s camp, the Republican National Committee and the state GOP is on air, with another million-dollar independent RNC expenditure to follow. This last-minute TV barrage, coupled with a Bush push, could edge Schundler into the winner’s circle.
“One visit here would really go a long way,” Schundler said Monday. “I think President Bush’s coming in and highlighting the differences between my successes in Jersey City and Jim McGreevey’s clear failures in Woodbridge would really help crystallize things for the voter.”
Bush could shatter McGreevey’s claim that Schundler is an extremist Charlie McCarthy to Charlton Heston’s Edgar Bergen. A Bush appearance would make voters ask: If Schundler is a fringe nominee, why would the president embrace him? With Quinnipiac having reported October 15 that Bush enjoys 90 percent job approval in New Jersey, a presidential whistlestop would help cleanse the dirt that McGreevey has hurled at his rival.
Schundler added that while McGreevey is spending millions of dollars attacking him on TV, the Schundler campaign is sending Republicans a positive message via direct mail. Alas, even this routine tactic has become ensnared by terrorism. The anthrax-related shutdown of postal facilities in Trenton and slowdowns across the state are hindering Schundler’s communications efforts. Coupled with post 9-11 angst, it’s no wonder the Newark Star Ledger recently found that only 9 percent of voters are watching this race closely.
George W. Bush instantly could pierce through this fog. He need only land at Newark Airport and triumphantly lift Schundler’s hand in the air within a hangar full of balloons, confetti and screaming supporters. Team Schundler would air the footage through TV ads until the polls close. Come November 7, such a simple gesture by America’s top Republican could turn the ex-mayor into Governor-elect Bret Schundler.