- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2001

NEW YORK — The political sparring in the New Jersey governor's race — a classic matchup of liberal versus conservative — is verging on insults just days before the traditional Labor Day opening of campaign season.
Pitting two mayors of different styles and ideologies, the battle for the New Jersey governorship has taken on national significance as both parties watch the state for omens of political momentum.
Bret D. Schundler, 42, the crime-fighting mayor of Jersey City who scored an upset primary win to gain the Republican nomination, has been the target of criticism for his conservative positions against abortion and gun control.
"The real issue is: Given limited resources and the incredible expense, will we be able to communicate enough to offset the mischaracterization of myself by my opponent and the press?" Mr. Schundler said in an interview with The Washington Times.
The prime perpetrator of this "mischaracterization" is James E. McGreevey, 44, the Democratic mayor of Woodbridge, who has racked up a double-digit lead in polls — an edge Mr. Schundler calls "utterly meaningless" so early in the race.
The mayors, both in their early 40s, have little else in common. New Jersey reporters note that Mr. Schundler is skilled at turning media questions toward his own issues, while Mr. McGreevey is rarely specific unless he has his briefing book handy.
Mr. McGreevey, a boyish-looking, pro-choice Catholic, likes to talk about his Marine uncle who died on Iwo Jima. He champions himself as a spokesman for working people.
In 1997, Mr. McGreevey came within a whisker of beating Gov. Christie Whitman. He believes fervently in the public school system and rails against guns. Divorced, with one daughter, he remarried last year and expects another child in January.
Mr. Schundler, 42, a 6-foot-2 Ivy Leaguer, is an active pro-life Christian known for his brainy approach to financial problems. The Harvard graduate revels in numbers and likes to remind audiences that for eight years as mayor he cut taxes and crime in Jersey City. It is part of the local political lore: Fresh from Wall Street where he made a fortune, a young conservative achieves a national reputation by prevailing in an overwhelmingly Democratic city.
Mr. Schundler champions charter schools and vouchers, referring to the public education system as "government schools." Before his upset victory over centrist former Rep. Bob Franks in the Republican primary, he said he would support a law to allow the carrying of concealed handguns. He is married, just once, with two children.
In the wake of the June primary victory, the former Wall Street whiz trailed by 13 points, but the latest Quinnipiac University poll taken in early August indicates Mr. Schundler has lost ground, now lagging behind his opponent by 19 points.
Monika McDermott, a senior researcher at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, cautions against making any assumptions. "People tend to underestimate Schundler a lot, just as in they did in the GOP primary and the first time he ran for mayor in Jersey City," she said.
The candidates have yet to address in detail the state's two critical issues: property taxes and auto insurance rates, both the highest in the nation.
Meanwhile, the media have made much of the pro-life stand taken by Mr. Schundler, who is not averse to sprinkling his remarks with allusions to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
"Schundler doesn't wear his religion on his sleeve," said a Star-Ledger columnist. "He wears it pinned to his chest like a military decoration."
Mr. McGreevey would not grant a request for an interview, but his strategy is designed to depict his challenger as an extremist out of touch with average New Jersey voters. He harps on his opponent's pro-life stand, and how it would forbid abortion even in the case of rape or incest. Catholics make up 40 percent of the electorate, a swing vote that Mr. McGreevey regards, along with women voters, as part of his urban base.
The Schundler campaign has met the abortion issue head on. "Is the pope an extremist? Was Mother Teresa a wacko?" asks a Schundler TV ad. Mr. McGreevey calls the ad "inappropriate."
In a state with no television stations of its own, New Jersey candidates require huge sums to buy TV commercials in the New York and Philadelphia media markets. Under state law, candidates receiving matching funds can spend no more than $8.4 million.
Of great help to the Schundler campaign, however, is a recent New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission ruling that permits the Republican National Committee (RNC) to spend as much as it wants on election advertising in which the candidates are named.
The only catch is that the state campaign and the RNC are forbidden to coordinate their efforts. In the past, the national parties ran generic commercials, with no mention of names.
The McGreevey campaign has cried foul and filed suit late last week. As of June, the state Democratic Party had $7.3 million on hand, while the state Republicans had just over $725,000.


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