To say that Republicans in Jersey City are well positioned to help turn New Jersey into a red state would be to dismiss the political reality of the city and the county’s longtime Democratic base.
The last time a Republican captured city hall in Jersey City was back in 1992 when Bret Schundler won the city’s mayoralty. It’s worth noting that Schundler, a former Democrat, was New Jersey’s coordinator for Gary Hart’s presidential campaign in 1984.
Registered Democrats in Jersey City typically outnumber their political rivals by a margin of more than five to one, notes Dan Beckelman, a GOP commissioner currently serving on the Hudson County Board of Elections. But local Republicans have made some gains, he notes.
Four years ago, according to the county superintendent of elections’ office, there were 36,434 Republicans registered to vote in Hudson County and 9,013 in Jersey City. This year, as of Oct. 19, there are 41,597 registered GOP voters in the county — a 14% increase — and 13,026 in Jersey City — a whopping 44.5% uptick.
Still, to keep things in perspective, those numbers reflect an across-the-board upswing in the number of residents who have registered to vote likely prompted by interest in the presidential contest. Hudson County’s registered vote total rose, from 347,277 in 2016 to 411,341, an 18% increase this year while Jersey City’s went from 136,026 to 167,146, a 23% increase.
In terms of campaigning, this election cycle has been different for the GOP in many ways. There have been no political rallies locally, little to no financial aid from the state or national party, and relatively few residents posting political signs. What is more, county and state Republican leader Jose Arango recently backed the Jersey City school board slate endorsed by Democratic Mayor Steve Fulop, reflecting some weakening in the local GOP’s cohesiveness. Nevertheless, the local GOP base appears to be solidly behind their candidate.
Neil Schulman, a veteran local Republican foot soldier who currently serves as one of the county GOP executive directors, puts it this way: “[Donald] Trump doesn’t have a filter but he’s doing a good job for the country. I’m not saying he’s perfect, but things could be a lot worse.”
“Before the coronavirus hit, he was heading to re-election and now the polls are showing him behind [Democratic challenger Joe Biden], but a lot of people don’t want to admit supporting him. A lot of people don’t want to hear you defend Trump, but I believe the country is leaning too much to socialism.”
Schulman believes that fear — coupled with concern that socialist thinking will lead to big spending on social programs by the government — will drive many voters in some areas of the county to vote for the party’s leader. “Look at Harrison, Kearny, maybe Secaucus, as places where Trump will do well and even Bayonne because they don’t go along with the flow.”
A political brochure distributed recently to the party faithful by the Jersey City Republican Club warns: “Liberal special interest groups across Jersey City are rallying for higher property taxes to feed the unchecked tax and spend machine that is the city government and Board of Education. This extremist support for big government and machine politics is a serious threat to the future of our city and must be stopped.”
The brochure advocates for “Republican values” such as “limited and efficient government, economic empowerment, individual liberty and personal responsibility.”
Joshua Sotomayor Einstein, a former chairman of the Young Republicans of Hudson County and now a member of the New Jersey Republican Party executive committee, senses a growing grassroots movement in the state and country that is “loud and proud for libertarian government. There’s a definite thirst for a real alternative to the status quo … who see Trump as honest and earnest. They don’t understand why he’s painted as a demon. The hard left are just alienating people.”
And Kamei Harris, president of the Hudson County Federation of Republican Women, who works as an assistant chief clerk in the Jersey City Police Department, is “very confident that Trump is going to do well” nationwide even though “a lot of people are afraid to go out in the open for him. Even if we do lose in Jersey City, I believe overall, he will do well. A lot of Democrats will vote him in.”
Under Trump’s leadership, Harris said, “our economy was booming before COVID.” Trump is all about self-initiative, she said. “It’s all about you educating yourself, not sitting home and waiting on the government for help.”