Between the lines Has the tide turned for Menendez?

As in past years, state Republicans seem to have peaked too early. Many of the better political brains in Hudson County believe that U.S. Senator Robert Menendez will retain his seat in the U.S. Senate despite a strong push by state Senator Tom Kean, Jr.

While Kean advertisements still try to paint Menendez as corrupt, the message is grown so stale that Menendez – staggered under the blows in mid-September – has regained his balance and may stumble into the winner’s circle despite his own lackluster campaign.

Kean has tried desperately to distance himself from President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq, yet has seen his own fortunes rise and fall with Bush’s popularity.

Kean’s anti-Menendez campaign coincided with Bush’s brief rise in popularity after the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks restored to Bush some of his former glory. But October has proven particularly brutal for Republican interests nationwide as casualty numbers for American troops rise.

Kean cannot escape Bush, despite his duck and cover efforts, nor can he avoid the bad position he is in within his own party. Although Kean is hardly a liberal, he uses his father’s name for clout among swing voting Democrats. Kean, Sr. – who chaired the 9/11 Commission – is seen as a champion against some of the hard line national policies imposed by the Bush Administration.

It is the Kean legacy that allows Kean, Jr. to maintain his relatively high polling numbers. But this is a double edged sword for Kean since he needs to also satisfy the extreme right in his own party, who might vote for him to keep Menendez out, but may not get out the vote Kean needs on election day.

Even some voters, who might otherwise support Kean may be turned off by the constant negative advertising, since an anti-Menendez campaign allows Kean to avoid tough questions on where he stands on abortion, stem cell research and even the war.

A hard look at Kean may leave some voters wondering if Kean is tough enough to stand up to his own party on issues that are central to New Jersey voters, leaving Menendez looking better despite the negative ads.

The expected attacks after Labor Day are wearing thin, and to some political observers, Menendez’s fortunes may be on the rise again.

Most believe that Menendez will see a spike in Latino voters, and support – if lackluster – from Democrats throughout the state, allowing him to squeak by for a victory 52 percent to Kean’s 48 percent.

One curious sign of this may be the Philadelphia Inquirer, the paper that broke the biggest story of the campaign by revealing the existence of a tape showing Menendez friend Donald Scarinci trying to sway Dr. Oscar Sandoval into giving a Menendez friend a job.

The Philadelphia Inquirer endorsed Menendez, not Kean.

Secaucus’ Grecco may be tough to beat

One axiom of modern voting says: “lawn signs don’t vote.”

This means that a resident might put up a lawn sign for one candidate and still vote for another.

People who have government jobs are particularly vulnerable to pressure from candidates in office to install signs in order to demonstrate popular support.

For this reason, you might be mistaken in counting up all the signs in Secaucus’s first ward and conclude that incumbent Councilman Michael Grecco will beat challenger Gary Jeffas on Nov. 8.

While Jeffas, who is running with Department of Public Works Superintendent Michael Gonnelli and popular chiropractor Dr. Robert Berkes on a ticket called Take Back Secaucus, may have a lot of sympathy with citizens dissatisfied with Grecco and the ticket backed by Mayor Dennis Elwell.

Grecco is running with incumbent Robert Kickey and former Board of Education member John Shinnick.

While Kickey faces the toughest battle of his political career as Gonnelli seeks to take his seat, he also faces Board of Education member Tom Troyer in a three-way race in the second ward.

Shinnick also faces a stiff challenge from a popular doctor, and will have to rely heavily on the Elwell Team getting out the vote.

Grecco, however, is a different story. Although many predict his doom as well, Grecco is a survivor and often someone underrated by his opposition. A long time school board member, Grecco upset then incumbent Councilman Michael Lari when first elected in 1992, beginning a political career plagued with predictions that he would not survive each new election – beating back challenges from strong challengers again and again, such as Dawn McAdam or George Heflich. Grecco even incurred the wrath of his own party when he defied the wishes of one time Democratic Municipal Chairman Anthony Impreveduto. Perhaps his most savvy move came in 1999, when he hooked his fortunes with Elwell when Elwell beat then Mayor Anthony Just in a primary.

This move put him at odds with his closest political alley, then Councilman Robert Campanella, who stayed loyal to Just and was swept out of office.

Political signs, however, can tell a story. Robert Zych, who ran in this year’s primary against Grecco, has a political sign for Grecco on his lawn. This only adds fuel to the perception that he been working with the Elwell Team all along to make certain that no opposition candidate would unseat Grecco.

Not surprising, however, is the sign on former Mayor Just’s lawn opposed to the Elwell team.

Political tidbits

State Senator and Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria is apparently running for reelection as state senator in the 31st District.

He has recently been meeting with politically powerful people inside and outside Hudson County in an effort to bring together a coalition.

Doria apparently has built a strong relationship with Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, who actually knocked on doors for Doria in the June mayoral runoff election in Bayonne.

Another key figure Doria has met with is Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who Doria sees as potentially one of the most powerful future Democratic leaders on the state and perhaps even the national level. This is a relationship to watch closely.


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