As someone who was born and raised in New Jersey I can assure you with some authenticity that New Jersey pride is often under-appreciated and overlooked. Personally, I’ve always been particularly proud of my state’s more liberal leanings over the last few decades. But my confidence in the judgment of my states’ voters is being shaken currently by an uncomfortably close race for senate between 10-month-long Democratic incumbent Robert Menendez and his Republican challenger, Tom Kean Jr., who’s son of 9/11 commission head and popular former N.J. governor Tom Kean.
In Jersey, Bush is more unpopular than he is in roughly 45 of the other states. He was defeated there handily in ’00 and ’04. The state hasn’t elected a Republican senator in over 30 years. But with the corruption and scandal fueled downfalls of former Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli in 2002 and the former Democratic Governor James McGreevey last year, has soured many New Jersey citizens on the state’s Democratic machine. Menendez, an appointee of Gov. Jon Corzine’s, has been similarly marred by accusations of poor ethics. With the exception of a recent Zogby poll, Menendez has been trailing Kean Jr by a few points consistently for weeks now.
Even more discouragingly, Menendez has about as much charisma as a 9th grade algebra teacher. Nevertheless, he has taken some impressive political stands. Throughout the campaign Menendez has been savvy to highlight his opposition to the war in Iraq from day one. On the other hand he’s shown a disheartening inclination to pander to the right, as he did by voting to essentially allow President Bush to continue with his blatant disregard for the Geneva Conventions.
Meanwhile Kean Jr. seems just as affable and sensible as his father. But his sunny exterior and moderate posturing disguise much more conservative views on issues like stem cell research. When it comes to what is arguably the most important issue in the country right now, the war in Iraq, Kean Jr. says he supported it initially and despite what we all now know, still does.
New Jersey can’t risk putting someone in office from either party who spouts that kind of reactionary rhetoric. The senate swings in the balance and the opportunity to finally change course on Iraq and host of other issues does too.