Like a political force of nature, Gov. Chris Christie keeps roiling the race to replace himself. He’s pooh-poohed Republican candidate Kim Guadagno’s plan to dig up millions by auditing state government. And Wednesday, Christie attacked Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy on several issues — among them Murphy’s not taking a stand on capping police and firefighter pay raises.
“He’s an artist, okay? He’s a baloney artist,” Christie said. “The fact that he won’t take a position on the interest arbitration cap? He’s a coward. An absolute coward, and he’s a political charlatan.”
Christie claimed he’d renew the two percent arbitration cap on salary hikes before it expires on Dec. 31. It’s part of his legacy toolkit for towns looking to keep municipal budgets tight, without cutting services or raising taxes. That aligns him with Lt. Gov. Guadagno. She’s insinuated her opponent, Murphy, is on the fence because he cut a deal with police and firefighter unions.
“And, I’ll tell you why he doesn’t have an opinion on it. It’s because he can’t say he’s in favor of the two percent cap. He can’t say it out loud because he’s made promises to everyone, everyone!” said Guadagno.
“It’s politics. It’s New Jersey politics at its worst,” said State Policeman’s Benevolent Association President Pat Colligan.
Colligan says Murphy just wants to see the annual report on the cap’s performance and he discounts Christie adding his two cents.
“I guess it’s easy to do that at a 15 percent approval rating. You can say anything you want. Let’s wait until the report comes out. How is that anybody in the back pocket of the unions? We haven’t spoken to Mr. Murphy about it. I did ask Sen. Sweeney and Speaker Prieto to wait until the report comes out,” said Colligan.
Murphy claimed Christie is, “… more interested in bullying and name calling than leading. Every time Chris Christie speaks, he reminds the people of New Jersey why they can’t wait to reject his Lieutenant Governor, Kim Guadagno, this November … ”
Most recent polls give Murphy at least a 20-point lead over Guadagno among likely voters, but show many remain undecided. Or maybe just overwhelmed by hurricanes and Donald Trump, says pollster Krista Jenkins.
“The reality is that the public’s appetite for politics is only so big,” said Jenkins. “So, it’s not a surprise that I think so few people are paying attention. Coupled with the events in Washington D.C. and then you layer on top of that the sense that it’s really not that competitive of a race. And we know voters tend to pay attention really in competitive races.”
Jenkins also says Guadagno is trying to walk a knife edge with voters, distancing herself from a deeply unpopular governor, without alienating her base. But Christie’s intent on defending his legacy against insults from both Murphy and Guadagno and the news media. He says he will not let his remaining 117 days as governor slide quietly by.
“Whether you guys like the answers or not, I give them. And what they’ll learn, both of them, about this job is that you can’t avoid giving the answers. Eventually, you have to give the answers,” said Christie.
It’s possible voter interest will perk up next month. A couple of debates will offer the candidates higher visibility and a chance to score some points with the undecideds.