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If you want to become governor of NJ, you don’t have to be super-rich (but it helps)

David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ
David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ

If you want to win a major statewide election in New Jersey, do you have to be a multi-millionaire?

No, but having a lot of money really helps a lot, according to the experts.

Ben Dworkin, a political science professor at Rider University, says that to win a major statewide office like governor or U.S. Senator, you have to first win your party primary, which means you have to be well known to the movers and shakers.

“If you have a lot of money to spread around, then you ingratiate yourself and you can build up and buy a lot of good will. If you have a lot of money, then you’re able to buy TV ads and get people to know you,” he said.

Before the primaries in June, candidates try to get on the coveted party line in all 21 counties.

If your name is in that column, with other well known and established local candidates, it will catch the attention of voters.

“When they go into the voting booth, they will look to that column, and that will tend to get you … 75 percent of the vote, sometimes more.”

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“If you as a candidate are able to secure the line, that preferred ballot position in your party’s primary in enough key counties, then you can win the whole thing.”

How to get on that line depends by county. Some have a mini convention, others have a steering committee and others may have one party leader who makes the final decision.

Once you win the nomination in the primary, then the fun really begins.

Dworkin says that New Jersey, because of its physical geography, requires any statewide candidate to have the resources to go on network TV in New York and Philadelphia.

“These are the first and fourth most expensive media markets in the entire country, and if you want to cover the state with a commercial, you’ve got to buy New York and Philly media, and this is why our statewide elections cost between $15- and $30 million,” he said.

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Sometimes you can wind up winning a big election, even if you’re not a multi-millionaire, if enough people already know who you are.

“Somebody like Bill Bradley, the United States senator, had tremendous notoriety because he had been a hall of fame basketball player for the New York Knicks,” he said.

“Everybody knew him, everybody wanted to go see him, but he did go out and shook hands with everybody to demonstrate he was ready to work for it.”

Dworkin said another example of a well-known individual winning a big election was Chris Christie, the former U.S. attorney for New Jersey.

He noted an example of money making a big difference in a campaign was Jon Corzine, the former head of Goldman Sachs, “who virtually nobody knew within the party but he bought the ads and he bought the support in order to eventually become governor.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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