Can the GOP actually win seats in New Jersey this year? Yes and no.

This is a unique year — of course, aren’t they all? What’s unique about this year is that there are two polarizing figures driving voters to the poll s ... err, to the mailbox.

President Donald Trump has energized a new generation of GOP voters and reenergized the old “Reagan Democrats." He’s also energized the far Left, who have taken to the streets in violent protests … I mean riots, and criminal activity. Certainly the president can be a valuable asset to any GOP campaign in a close race. He can also be the villain to turn out Left leaning voters to push a Democrat over the top.

Elections always come down to how energized the base is and whether the middle-of-the-road voters think there’s a compelling reason to turn out. Enter the second polarizing figure this year, Gov. Phil Murphy. While you are struggling to deal with the tax burden on families and small businesses before the lockdown, he’s pushing and will likely get a huge tax hike delivered by the Democratic majority in the Legislature. He’s made so many decisions that have hurt families of school-age kids to small business owners that there are average Democrats who might consider voting against him if there was a compelling candidate.

A successful candidate this year should be looking at these two figures and shaping a message to voters that captures their anger. The problem is that even though the Murphy lockdown has hurt so many, the GOP challengers in 11 of the 12 NJ congressional districts have, for the most part, failed to make Murphy an issue.

The one exception to that seems to be Rosemary Becchi in the 11th District. She’s been outspoken on social media, never missing a chance to link her opponent, Democrat incumbent Mikie Sherrill, to Murphy and the most radical Left-wing members in Congress. It’s a smart move given that the 11th District leans slightly in favor of President Trump. Her challenge is that she doesn’t have the money that Mikie has and currently is at a 10-1 disadvantage with the incumbent having 3.4 million on hand compared to Becchi’s $300k. It’s not insurmountable and if I were looking to one race that could be the surprise on Election Day, this is it.

As far as the other races across the state, there are a few worth mentioning. First of all, Jeff Van Drew, who switched from Democrat to Republican last year and has the full backing of President Trump, is likely to win re-election. The district leans Trump and he is very connected to his constituents. His opponent Amy Kennedy seems a bit far Left for the South Jersey District. Congressman Chris Smith in NJ’s 4th District is also going to win, and win big. He is one of the few Republicans who fights hard for his principles and has appeal across the aisle.

In NJ’s 7th District, currently held by Democrat Tom Malinowski, who unseated GOPer Leonard Lance, State Senator Tom Kean is hoping to return the seat to GOP control. He’s got more than a few obstacles, although the district leans slightly Democratic with Hillary beating Trump by a point in 2016. Kean is being outgunned in the fundraising department by about two and a half to one. Kean’s other problem is that he is failing to mobilize the Trump base in the district, refusing to say anything positive about the president and has been all, but silent as the Senate minority leader as Murphy and his allies have crushed our economy and civil liberties in the name of a pandemic which has long passed.

Dave Richter is the Republican’s challenger against Democratic incumbent Andy Kim. Kim defeated GOPer Tom MacArthur despite the district swinging from a 5 point Obama win in 2012 to a 6 point Trump win in 2016. The potential for Richter to win is still there, but he has to overcome a dramatic fundraising gap. Kim has $3.5 million compared to about $100k for Richter. 35-1 is not how you want to go into the remaining few weeks of a close race.

One race that should have at least gotten a mention in the press, or at least by the NJGOP, is the write in candidate running against Democrat Frank Pallone in NJ’s 6th District. His name is Christian Onuoha. Born in Newark NJ and born of Nigerian immigrants, he is a great example for the left-leaning media that yes, the GOP has candidates who shatter the myth that they are an old, white male party exclusively. Now, he’s got no money, no campaign to speak of and won’t make a dent in Pallone’s surge to victory, but a mention woulda been nice. You have to start somewhere.

So best case for the Democrats, Van Drew loses a close one and Smith retains his seat and things stay 11 Democrats to 1 Republican. Best case for the GOP is Richter, Becchi and Kean win along with Van Drew and Smith changing the could to 7-5 in favor of the Democrats. But let’s face it, that is very unlikely. The other challenge is that even in the best case for the GOP, the count is irrelevant if the winners go to DC with their own agenda.  Another weak GOPer in DC will only further erode the GOP opposition and won’t accomplish anything for the voters and taxpayers in New Jersey. So think before you vote, this election is way more than Party affiliation.

This is a race about opposition to the lockdown and the fact that civil and economic liberties were crushed without a whimper from the elected legislature. This election is about overcoming the ignorance surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and the unfounded fear that still grips millions. This election is about having a champion for small businesses, families and school children. All who have been left without a choice as Murphy continues his path to power.

The virus itself is about as deadly as the flu, less so for younger, healthy people. The lockdown was unnecessary and deadly. Sadly, the NJGOP failed to stand up and speak for the people. As a result, the Blue nature of NJ is unlikely to change all that much this year.

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The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Bill Spadea. Any opinions expressed are Bill's own. Bill Spadea is on the air weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m., talkin’ Jersey, taking your calls at 1-800-283-1015.

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