Republican gubernatorial candidate Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli has two major problems hovering over his campaign, and their names are Donald Trump and Chris Christie. As The Record’s Charlie Stile outlines in his latest column, Ciattarelli is being forced to reckon with his past and current support for the former president and governor, both of whom remain incredibly unpopular with New Jersey voters. As Stile lays out:
But former Somerset County Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, the presumptive GOP front-runner for governor, is facing an unprecedented guilt-by-association challenge.
He is being cast as the immediate descendant of two unpopular Republicans with national profiles: former President Donald Trump, the anti-immigrant champion of conspiracy theories and peddler of the “Big Lie” over the 2020 election; and Chris Christie, the Bridgegate-battered ex-New Jersey governor, whose Nero-in-a-beach-chair photo during the 2016 budget shutdown is seared into the state’s consciousness.
Christie left office with an approval rating near 14%, the lowest of a New Jersey governor in the history of modern polling.
“For six long years, Ciattarelli was Christie’s No. 1 cheerleader in Trenton,” says the narrator in a Democratic Governors Association video released last week.
Assemblyman Ciattarelli shouldn’t be surprised that his associations with Trump and Christie are coming back to bite him. In an effort to gain traction in the race, Ciattarelli has embraced radical right wing positions on everything from voting rights to women’s healthcare to the minimum wage, putting him totally out of step with New Jersey. But Ciattarelli can’t shake off these unpopular stances, because he risks alienating the Trump base that controls the New Jersey Republican Party:
The Trump base, with its belief that President Joe Biden stole the election, is formidable and has helped explain Ciattarelli’s evolution from Trump critic to limited supporter and finally to attendee at a “Stop the Steal” rally late last year.
And last week, Ciattarelli touted the endorsement of Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-Cape May, the former Democrat who pledged his “undying” support for Trump and voted against certifying Biden’s 2020 election.
Although a routine and unsurprising development, the Murphy campaign came out swinging.
“With the GOP primary heating up, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli is willing to do anything to boost his credibility with Trump’s far-right base — even if it means partnering with a spineless empty suit like Jeff Van Drew,” said Murphy for Governor spokesman Jerrel Harvey.
Assemblyman Ciattarelli also can’t change his past legislative votes for Christie’s toxic agenda, nor can he duck away from his record as one of the ex-governor’s top cheerleaders in Trenton:
Democratic operatives have combed through Ciattarelli’s voting record to make their case. They have compiled a list of his votes that aligned with Christie. On gun control issues, for example, Ciattarelli voted against banning .50-caliber long rifles and then voted against an override of Christie’s veto.
Ciattarelli, a Second Amendment supporter, followed a similar path on legislation that called for reducing the capacity of ammunition magazines from 15 to 10 cartridges.
Murphy’s campaign also points to Ciattarelli’s repeated support for Christie’s efforts to pull $7.5 million for women’s health care clinics, run mostly by Planned Parenthood. Democrats and women’s groups saw it as a thinly veiled attack on the right to abortion, which Christie initially denied but later confirmed at a conservative policy conference.
Last month, the Murphy campaign enlisted all 28 female Democratic lawmakers to condemn Ciattarelli, asserting that those cuts also denied basic health service to low-income women of color.
It’s never been more clear who Jack Ciattarelli is — a Trenton insider who has hopelessly tied himself to the radical, QAnon wing of the Republican Party and who will never be able to fully break away from his history of supporting Donald Trump and Chris Christie. That’s the last thing New Jersey wants to see leading our state, and it’s why we need to re-elect Governor Phil Murphy.