Bob Hugin’s campaign for the United States Senate was a disaster. Everyone associated with it should be embarrassed, should wear the scarlet letter “L” as an external sign of their shame and contrition.
But there will be no contrition because these are people too proud to admit that their “vision” was flawed, that they outspent an extraordinarily flawed incumbent three to one and still lost badly. Hugin lost to Bob Menendez, a Democrat incumbent so flawed that one in three Democrat primary voters rejected him.
What’s worse is that the Hugin campaign was deliberately designed to suppress traditional Republican turnout while enormous amounts were spent to create a surge amongst “soft” Democrats and Democrat leaners who had soured on Menendez. The result of this strategy is best summed up when veterans of the Hugin campaign brag that they “won six Congressional districts.” Too bad that in five of those six districts, the Republican candidate for Congress lost, including two incumbents.
As recently as 2016, all six of those districts had been represented by a Republican. Now, just one remains.
Writing in the New Jersey Globe today, David Wildstein notes the re-emergence of Bob Hugin, addressing a meeting of Mercer County Republicans, placing his stamp of approval on the state’s first transgender candidate for the Legislature. Here we go again. Let’s not learn the lesson that $40 million wasn’t enough to convince voters that Republicans are more reliable social liberals than Democrats, instead… try, try again.
The candidate Hugin spoke on behalf of is Jennifer Williams. She is running for Assembly in the 15th Legislative District, a district that Republicans have almost no chance of picking up in 2019. But because Jennifer Williams is the first transgendered candidate of either party to run for the Legislature, she will become a focal point of the 2019 campaign cycle. Williams worked on Hugin’s campaign, so perhaps Hugin will provide her with the resources to make her campaign even more of a focal point.
The trouble is, 2019 will be a low turnout election, and Republicans are not fighting a statewide campaign but instead, are fighting to hold on to a few remaining Republican enclaves. Is this the time to be highlighting “a different kind of Republican” or is it time to drag everyone who is likely to vote Republican to the polls? And as for non-traditional Republican voters, are these more likely to be LGBTQ voters or poor working class Roman Catholics? Yes, there are choices to be made and making one choice often negates the other. So which is the surer bet?
Unfortunately, from all the hype, all we know about Jennifer Williams is that she is what some call a “transwoman”. That is likely to be of little use in motivating traditional Republican turnout and – in the era of Donald Trump – unlikely to motivate enough LGBTQ voters to make up for what you lose. The hoopla resulting from this “first” will most certainly bleed beyond the borders of the 15th District, turning off and giving up as it goes. So that Republicans could neither gain the 15th or the boost necessary to save endangered seats.
For the good of her party, Jennifer Williams should play down the significance of her “gender” and instead focus on a message that aggressively defines the Trenton Democrats as what they are. But can Williams even use the term, “Trenton Democrats”, as a negative in Legislative District 15? Williams claims to be a “conservative”, well this would be the time for her to craft a message that illustrates what that means.
Candidate Williams has secured the endorsement of the GOP establishment in Mercer and Hunterdon Counties. We suspect that there will not be much competition for such a thankless task. We wish her well but hope that she does not become the “face” of this year’s Republican legislative campaign in New Jersey, and we hope Bob Hugin doesn’t make it his mission to make it so.