Senate Republicans Lose Candidate in New Jersey
Remember last week's Senate Line in which we praised Republicans for finding self-funding candidates to challenge potentially vulnerable Democratic incumbents in New Jersey and South Dakota?
Well, scratch that -- at least in New Jersey.
Developer Anne Evans Estabrook removed herself from the race against Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) today just two days after suffering a minor stroke.
"Make no mistake, until Monday I was ready to fight for the Republican nomination and the chance to defeat Frank Lautenberg," Estabrook said in a statement. "I have never backed down from a fight and I am convinced we would have been successful."
John Ensign (Nev.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called Estabrook "an excellent candidate" and added: "I am sure she will remain a force in New Jersey politics for years to come."
Senate Republican strategists quickly sought to soften the blow of Estabrook's decision, emphasizing that the same factors that made Lautenberg vulnerable a week ago mean he is vulnerable today.
That's true -- with one HUGE caveat.
Polling in the state does seem to show that voters don't feel all that strongly about re-electing Lautenberg. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed the Democratic incumbent with a relatively modest 37 percent to 30 percent advantage over a generic Republican; the same survey showed 39 percent of voters approving of the job Lautenberg has done and 31 percent disapproving.
So, what's the caveat? M-O-N-E-Y. Estabrook had it -- she had already loaned her campaign $1.6 million -- and no one else in the Republican race at the moment does. In New Jersey, campaign cash is the beginning, middle and end of a successful statewide campaign. Why? The Garden State is covered by two of the most expensive media markets in the country -- New York City and Philadelphia -- a factor that means a statewide ad buy is counted in the millions -- not thousands -- of dollars for a single week.
Look back at the 2006 Senate race. Republicans recruited state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. -- the son of the well-regarded former governor. Democrats had Rep. Robert Menendez as their candidate. Menendez had real potential trouble spots -- most revolving around potential ethics questions -- but Kean was never able to stay competitive financially and therefore couldn't capitalize on Menendez's weaknesses. Menendez spent more than $13 million on the race, compared to less than $8 million for Kean. Game over. Menendez claimed a 53 percent to 44 percent victory.
Could New Jersey be competitive in 2008? Sure. But it would require Republicans to find another candidate -- like Estabrook -- with deep pockets and the willingness to reach into them. And, even then it could be tough given the Democratic lean of New Jersey and a national environment likely to favor Democrats in November. The filing deadline in the state is a month from tomorrow, leaving Senate Republicans relatively little time in which to recruit another candidate.
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