Who he is: Matthew Hale, associate professor of political science and public affairs at Seton Hall University.
Why he matters: Hale, 47, is a close follower of New Jersey politics and has become a go-to source for reporters seeking up-to-the-minute analysis of current events, whether it involves a state Assembly contest or the latest developments in Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination. Hale is also the director of Seton Hall’s master’s program in public administration.
Where he’s from: Hale is a California native who grew up about 30 minutes south of Los Angeles. He said his lifelong interest in politics was sparked in part by an influential high school teacher. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of California-Irvine, and then a master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Southern California, specializing in nonprofits. Outside of academia, he’s worked on political campaigns at all levels, including presidential politics.
“I started out working in political campaigns. I felt like I was pretty good at getting people elected, but not so good at understanding what they did once they got elected,” Hale said. “How do we get them to be effective legislators and effective leaders?”
Why New Jersey? “New Jersey is alive,” Hale said. “In California, I grew up with ‘Hey, dude.’” “I enjoy the intensity,” he said. “People are really connected to community and neighborhood in a way that I’ve never found on the West Coast. I love that.” Hale came to New Jersey in 2003, attracted by Seton Hall’s nationally ranked nonprofit management program. His interest in nonprofits stems largely from a “frustration with government.” “Public service is about changing the world. Everything else is commentary,” he said. “I think nonprofits are agents of social change.”
What he’s up to: Hale has been co-teaching a graduate course with South Orange Village President Alex Torpey that focuses on transparency and open government and the use of data.
He’s also very active on Twitter, using the handle @njpoliticsprof, and he’s getting ready to start a research project that will explore New Jersey’s online political community, looking into who is posting updates about New Jersey politics and what community is following those posts. “I think Twitter is an amazing tool for understanding and synthesizing what’s going on,” Hale said. Hale is also preparing to teach a course this spring that will be centered on Christie’s rise to national prominence and the role viral YouTube videos played in developing the Republican governor’s popularity. “That’s what got him the national prominence, but he hasn’t been able to maintain it,” Hale said.
Keeping an eye on Christie: Still, Hale says it’s not yet time to count Christie out, even as he struggles with low poll numbers and fundraising totals that trail those of GOP rivals. New developments in campaign finance, including the rise of super PACs that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money as long as they don’t directly coordinate with candidates, have changed the political dynamics of a presidential election. That means candidates like Christie can stay viable longer, he said.
“I think he has enough money to stay in through New Hampshire,” Hale said, referring to New Hampshire’s February 9 presidential primary.
“Having worked in New Hampshire, I know that magic can come out of nowhere,” he said. “I think there is at least the potential that there could be some sort of surprise or magic for Christie in New Hampshire.” Hale also said Christie could eventually get more support as the campaign season unfolds from establishment Republicans concerned about the current frontrunners in the Republican primary, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who have no political experience.
Back in New Jersey: Hale said Christie’s turn to the right as a presidential candidate has hurt his own party, as Republicans this year are trying to win back control of the state Assembly after more than a decade of Democratic dominance.
“I think New Jersey is angry at Chris Christie,” Hale said. “Since he’s been running for president and made his right-hand turn, I think the Republican brand in New Jersey is a disaster right now.”
Where he hangs his hat: Hale, a divorced father of two children, Eva, 13, and Zach, 10, lives in Highland Park and is an active member of the community and synagogue.
What he does in his free time: Hale is a former high-school and college baseball player who has continued playing the sport in competitive men’s leagues in New Jersey. He also recently completed his first triathlon.