Commentary Magazine


Chris Christie’s Fundraising Prowess Puts Dems On Defensive

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s popularity with national Republicans and many independents has led to constant chatter about the possibility of Christie running for president. While Republican primary voters (and countless campaign consultants) remain disappointed he has thus far rejected the idea, the Republican party in his home state couldn’t be happier.

That’s because Christie has been a fundraising machine for the New Jersey state GOP, which pulled in $1 million in the second quarter of the year. And the numbers are moving in the right direction: the party’s second-quarter numbers surpassed the $740,000 raised in the first quarter of the year. The Democrats raised $189,000 in each of the first two quarters of the year. In November, every seat in the state legislature is up for election.

State Democratic Party Chairman John Wisniewski gave his best attempt at dismissing the numbers. “With Christie in the governor’s office, we knew the Republicans were going to put up bigger numbers than they ever have in the past,” Wisniewski said. “Democrats are focused on what we do best, growing our base and bringing our message to front doors, union halls and local organizations all across New Jersey.”

This will present a challenge to Wisniewski, who became party chairman in January 2010, as Christie was taking office. Wisniewski’s most glaring weakness has always been his prickliness about intraparty squabbles, and Christie’s legislative successes against the ubiquitous and powerful public unions have only further divided the Democrats. And now he must deal with an exceedingly rare 5-to-1 fundraising disadvantage even when they have a 14-point voter registration advantage. Democratic State Senate President Stephen Sweeney is more popular among Republicans than he is among Democrats–no doubt in part because of his support for some of Christie’s legislation.

But that last point is really what’s behind Christie’s efforts to help the state GOP. There is only so much help he will get from Sweeney, even when Christie’s initiatives are popular. And that well might be about to run dry.

Earlier this month, Democrats defied Christie’s request to work together on a budget and instead released their own. Christie vetoed much of the Democrats’ spending and signed his version of it. Sweeney exploded. “This is all about [Christie] being a bully and a punk,” he told the Star-Ledger. “I wanted to punch him in his head.”

A more telling comment from Sweeney followed. “To prove a point to me — a guy who has stood side by side with him, and made tough decisions — for him to punish people to prove his political point? He’s just a rotten bastard to do what he did.”

Sweeney was doing two things with this remark. He was signaling to his liberal constituents and interest groups that he is not there to rubber-stamp Christie’s projects, and he was telling Christie that with an election coming up, he is out of political capital he can (or will) spend on conservative legislation–for now. What Christie needs–both if he wants to win reelection and if he wants to pass any legislation in a second term–is to have more Republicans in office. Democrats have a 24-16 advantage in the state senate, and a 47-33 lead in the assembly.

Christie may be a commanding personality occupying one of the most powerful governorships in the country, but he still needs the legislature to pass far-reaching reforms. For that, he needs a stronger Republican party at home. His fundraising success is the first step.