- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2001

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Just last month, former Rep. Bob Franks enjoyed a plush, double-digit lead in the polls over Bret D. Schundler for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in New Jersey. As the choice of Acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco (whose own candidacy abruptly disintegrated in the spring as the press began to report on dubious business interests), Mr. Franks commanded the support of virtually every GOP county chairman in the state. That was then. Heading into today's Republican primary, this hard-fought race looks like a dead heat, with one independent poll tipping the race to Mr. Schundler with a 15-point lead over Mr. Franks.
For the first time in memory, New Jersey's 850,000 registered Republicans have an unfuzzy choice between nearly picture-perfect examples of "conservatism" (Mr. Schundler) and "centrism" (Mr. Franks). Mr. Schundler, a former mayor of Jersey City, hews to the right wing of the Republican Party, opposing abortion and gun control, and enthusiastically supporting school vouchers and hefty tax cuts and spending cuts. Tacking starboard, Mr. Franks, a former U.S. representative, approaches these same issues from the middle-left of the contemporary spectrum, favoring abortion, gun control and increased education spending. (Interestingly enough, Mr. Franks just announced a plan to limit property tax increases, a hasty testament to Mr. Schundler's muscular backstretch performance which analysts have read as an attempt to goose the flagging Franks campaign into a stronger finish.)
Not exactly what you might call Reaganesque, Mr. Franks became the favorite son of the New Jersey GOP for a couple of reasons: his surprisingly strong, even gallant and certainly ill-funded campaign last fall against now-Sen. Jon Corzine; and the conventional wisdom that only a "centrist" is ultimately electable in November against Democrat Jim McGreevey. This last point carries extra weight in a year when the U.S. Senate is so narrowly divided and the government's investigations into Sen. Robert Torricelli's fund-raising activities could well force the New Jersey Democrat to resign. It would be the governor's job, of course, to replace him, potentially affecting the Senate's balance-of-parties once again.
When it comes to general electability, the conventional wisdom on the Franks-Schundler race may be correct. But it is also the case that in Mr. Schundler Republicans have found an unusual kind of conservative. As the three-time mayor of Jersey City, the 42-year-old Harvard graduate won solid victories in an almost thoroughly Democratic stronghold a city where the GOP claims a paltry 6 percent of registered voters and minorities makes up 65 percent of the electorate. This in itself is an impressive achievement. But it also bodes well for Mr. Schundler's ability to, as they say, reach across party lines should he be the GOP gubernatorial nominee.
If today's primary ends in an upset, it would, of course, be a personal victory for Mr. Schundler. But it would also be a victory for the conservative wing of the GOP in New Jersey, not to mention a win for underdogs everywhere over party regulars. If Mr. Franks does manage to pull it out, the establishment wins again, and we all begin hoping the conventional wisdom is right.

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