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Blue The Nation | September 2, 2014

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Can Gay Marriage Defeat Chris Christie in New Jersey?

Can Gay Marriage Defeat Chris Christie in New Jersey?
Jonathan Nathan

Oh, this is such an exciting time! Before this past week, things were looking grim for the Democrats. While I’ve continued to believe that the 2014 election cycle can be as moderately successful for the left as the 2012 cycle was, things were starting to get dreary. And then, miracle of miracles! That great savior of our people, the almighty Social Issue, reared its head! It’s crazy to think that there was a time–a very recent time–when social issues were kryptonite for the left. But no longer. Wendy Davis brought national attention back to the continuing struggle for women’s rights and the Supreme Court (sort of) struck down Prop 8.

It’s documented, but not nearly well-documented enough, that social issues were about 95% of the reason the Democrats had such a commanding victory in the 2012 election cycle. When the Komen Foundation pulled funding from Planned Parenthood, the pro-choice lobby instantly went to war. The public relations backlash was immense. Komen reinstated the funding, but the organization still hasn’t recovered from the black eye it suffered. More importantly, listless, disillusioned liberals were galvanized into vigorous, proactive progressive activists. When Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock (to name a few of the various Republicans who screwed up) made their dumb remarks about abortion and rape, the progressive pro-choice movement was already organized and ready to pounce.

Marriage equality can function in 2013 in much the same way as women’s issues did in 2012 and almost certainly will again in 2014. What’s that? 2013? Yes, as you may recall, New Jersey and Virginia are holding elections this year, because some people just have to be weird like that.

Like these people. This is weird. It is weird to dress up as obscure Star Wars characters. Also I’m pretty sure two of them are just dressed up in bad Wilford Brimley masks. Those dudes weren’t in Star Wars at all.

Until recently, New Jersey’s 2013 gubernatorial election looked pretty well locked-in for Republican incumbent Chris Christie. The GOP has an extremely fringey chance of taking control of the state Senate, and almost zero chance at taking control of the state House, but it’s been looking pretty good for Christie. There was some speculation that the special election to replace the late Frank Lautenberg in the U.S. Senate could give Democratic gubernatorial challenger Barbara Buono a boost thanks to Corey Booker‘s coattails, but Christie neatly sidestepped that problem by wasting $25 million of taxpayer money.

But marriage equality could put Christie in a bind. The only hope he has is that the New Jersey legislature, currently under the control of the somewhat more conservative South Jersey Democratic faction, might not be too interested in a liberal, North Jersey issue like marriage equality, especially not for a liberal, North Jersey candidate like Buono. But the bill didn’t pass in the first place without some South Jersey support. Not even a Democratic Party as divided as New Jersey’s can pass up this good of an opportunity to take out a sitting Republican Governor.

The Governor has long maintained that he supports civil unions rather than full equality. He vetoed the state legislature’s bill to grant equality to same-sex couples, although there’s an increasing perception around the state’s politicosphere that the veto can be overridden. Until recently, there hadn’t been much steam behind the effort to force the issue. There’s plenty of time to hold an override vote on Christie’s veto, and other issues were seen as more pressing.

Now, however, with the Supreme Court’s recent pretty-good ruling on marriage equality, the issue is once again gaining traction all over the nation. New Jersey is no exception. Buono is already pushing for a vote to override the Governor’s veto. This would force Christie into the difficult position of having to either take a stand against a law that has majority support in his state or backtrack and change his previous position, which was that he did not support full marriage equality and believed the question should be left to the voters in a ballot initiative. Either way, Christie suffers a major political setback, and to be honest, it’s hard to know which would be worse for him.

If he fights the veto, there’s the small chance that there won’t be enough votes in the legislature to override him, but he still gets a black eye for being on the obviously wrong side of history in a blue state that supports marriage equality by a margin of 29 points. And that’s the best-case scenario for him. The more likely outcome is that his veto does get overridden. In that outcome, he has not only alienated a significant portion of his electorate, he’s lost a major battle in an election year on an emotional issue. Meanwhile, Buono will also be supporting a minimum wage hike that’s going to be on the ballot in November, while Christie will be opposing it. That measure has even bigger public support, a good 60 points or so.

Christie also has the option of not fighting the veto. He could choose not to make a public statement about it, but the media wouldn’t let him get away with that. If he wants to take this route, he’ll have to come out and publicly change his mind on the issue. That would mean that a lot of social-conservative support would dry up and he’d become a flip-flopper, and he’d still have suffered a political defeat. Even if he changes his mind, he already staked a position. This is his veto getting overridden. That’s a big issue and he loses on it no matter what he does.

The only way this choice works out for him is if the conservative movement changes dramatically between now and 2016. If he can be the one guy who saw it coming and got on the right side of history before any of the other GOP Presidential contenders did, he may well have written his own ticket into the White House. In that course of events, it would almost help his case if in backtracking, he ends up losing the gubernatorial election. He can then say that he made a bold choice that cost him electoral success.

But that’s not a likely outcome. Someday, the Republicans will be embarrassed for having opposed equality. But I don’t think that day will come before the 2016 election. So Christie is faced with a much more short-term conundrum: which kind of political defeat can I more effectively weather?

“For while the right choice will give you New Jersey…the wrong choice will take it from you.”

Let’s hope he picks wrong.

  • Sophie Sie

    Good Change For Better New Jersey!
    Vote babara Buono for your voice.
    Safeguard your property right!
    Enforce constitutional right.
    Combat Fraud!
    Stop Corruption!
    Babara Buono for your voice.
    Babara Buono for life style, dignity, and integrity!
    2013 … Vote Babara Buono for Governor.
    Support Children welfare policy.
    Support education, Support your school, Support your local small business.
    Keep jobs in New Jersey.
    Make sure your elected Governor has the capacity and resources to safeguard your property right and to ensure your life style catching up with the NJ high TAX cost.