Gover­nor’s races in 2 states echo the White House con­test

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By Alan Su­d­er­man and Michael Catal­ini

RICHMOND, VA. >> A blunt and com­bat­ive Repub­li­can who sneers at po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. In­sur­gent can­di­dates strik­ing pop­ulist notes. Es­tab­lish­ment fig­ures on the de­fen­sive. A for­mer TV star with po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions.

The gover­nor’s races this year in Vir­ginia and New Jersey are un­fold­ing in ways that pow­er­fully echo the wild cam­paign for the White House.

There is, for ex­am­ple, Corey Ste­wart, a tough-talk­ing for­mer Trump cam­paign chair­man in Vir­ginia who says Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s vic­tory has freed can­di­dates to “sim­ply be your­self.”

“You can be pro­fane. You can be po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect,” said Ste­wart, one of three can­di­dates chal­leng­ing Ed Gillespie, a for­mer Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­man, for the GOP nom­i­na­tion.

In Trump-like fash­ion, Ste­wart has coined a mock­ing nick­name for Gillespie: “Es­tab­lish­ment Ed.” Ste­wart, chair­man of the Board of Su­per­vi­sors in sub­ur­ban Wash­ing­ton’s Prince Wil­liam County, also held a lot­tery to give away an as­sault ri­fle and re­cently protested Charlottesville’s plans to re­move Repub­li­can can­di­date for gover­nor of Vir­ginia, Corey Ste­wart, speaks at a cam­paign kick­off rally in a restau­rant in Oc­co­quan, Va. Ste­wart, a tough-talk­ing for­mer Don­ald Trump cam­paign chair­man who says the pres­i­dent’s vic­tory has freed can­di­dates to “sim­ply be your­self.”

a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, tweet­ing, “The left has no re­spect for our his­tory.”

In New Jersey, for­mer “Satur­day Night Live” comic and Trump sup­porter Joe Pis­copo is con­sid­er­ing a run for gover­nor, pos­si­bly as an in­de­pen­dent.

Both races are wide open, with Repub­li­can Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey and Demo­cratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in Vir­ginia leav­ing of­fice be­cause of term limits.

The two con­tests are the high­est-pro­file elec­tions this year and are seen by the Democrats as a po­ten­tial ref­er­en­dum on Trump and an im­por­tant early test of the party’s strength less

than a year into his pres­i­dency.

Also, the party holds just 16 gov­er­nors’ of­fices, and tak­ing more of them could help the Democrats in­flu­ence the re­draw­ing of con­gres­sional and leg­isla­tive districts af­ter the 2020 cen­sus.

Na­tional groups al­ready have sig­naled they are will­ing to pour money into the two races. The Repub­li­can Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion re­cently put $5 mil­lion into its Vir­ginia cam­paign ac­count. In New Jersey, reg­u­la­tors ex­pect out­side spend­ing to break records.

“Every­body wants to make this a ref­er­en­dum on Trump,” said Ta­rina Keene, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor

The gover­nor’s races this year in Vir­ginia and New Jersey are un­fold­ing in ways that pow­er­fully echo the wild cam­paign for the White House.

of NARAL Pro-Choice Vir­ginia. “We want to set the stage for 2018 for win­ning and mak­ing sure a Trump agenda goes nowhere.”

Repub­li­cans have up­hill climbs in both states. In New Jersey, Democrats out­num­ber Repub­li­cans by about 800,000 vot­ers. Vir­ginia is more of a swing state, though Democrats have won every statewide elec­tion since 2009 and Hil­lary Clin­ton car­ried the state by more than 5 per­cent­age points in Novem­ber.

John Fred­er­icks, a con­ser­va­tive ra­dio host who helped run Trump’s cam­paign in Vir­ginia, said the Demo­cratic tilt of both states puts the pres­sure on the Democrats: “If the Repub­li­cans win, I think it is a huge, huge mes­sage that the Trump move­ment is grow­ing.”

Democrats say Trump’s moves tar­get­ing im­mi­grants, refugees, abor­tion and vot­ing rights should help their side, while Repub­li­cans are hop­ing Trump’s ef­forts to create jobs will at­tract more GOP vot­ers.

In New Jersey, Demo­cratic state Assem­bly­man John Wis­niewski is cast­ing him­self as a Bernie San­der­sstyle in­sur­gent, even though he has been in of­fice for two decades and served as state party chair­man. His chief ri­val for the nom­i­na­tion is Wall Street mil­lion­aire Phil Mur­phy, a for­mer Gold­man Sachs ex­ec­u­tive and Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion am­bas­sador to Ger­many who rep­re­sents the party’s es­tab­lish­ment wing.

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said he en­dorsed Mur­phy partly on Mur­phy’s abil­ity to block Trump’s agenda.

“Winter is com­ing,” Booker said. “It is crit­i­cal for us that we have a part­ner in Tren­ton who every day works in con­cert with us.”

Pis­copo, who has made a ca­reer out of im­per­son­at­ing fel­low New Jerseyan Frank Si­na­tra, plans to make a de­ci­sion by the spring.

“Don­ald Trump is a on­cein-a-life­time can­di­date, light­ning in a bot­tle,” he said. “Hav­ing said that, the thing that in­spired me was the move­ment of the peo­ple, the will of the peo­ple.”

What level of in­volve­ment Trump will have in the races is un­clear. A sin­gle Trump tweet for or against a can­di­date could al­ter the dy­nam­ics in a GOP pri­mary, and Trump has al­ready shown a will­ing­ness to back can­di­dates in con­tests pres­i­dents typ­i­cally ig­nore.

“We will let you know when we have an an­nounce­ment on ei­ther race,” White House spokes­woman Sarah San­ders said.

MEL EVANS — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

In this file photo, ac­tor, co­me­dian and ra­dio host Joe Pis­copo ad­dresses a gath­er­ing dur­ing a com­edy event to help raise funds for the Boys and Girls Club of Amer­ica at the Stress Fac­tory Com­edy Club in New Brunswick, N.J. Pis­copo is se­ri­ous when he says he’s con­sid­er­ing a run for New Jersey gover­nor in 2017.

STEVE HELBER — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

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