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Friendly Fire: The abortion debate, the NJ-7th, and Trump’s hillbilly

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Can Americans still have a sensible and friendly political discussion across the partisan divide? The answer is yes, and we intend to prove it. Julie Roginsky, a Democrat, and Mike DuHaime, a Republican, are consultants who have worked on opposite teams for their entire careers yet have remained friends throughout. Here, they discuss the week’s events with Editorial Page editor Tom Moran.

Q. Pro-life activists scored the win of a lifetime with the Supreme Court’s tentative decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, but abortion will remain legal in about half the country. Will they try to ban it in the other half, including New Jersey, if they win the mid-terms and the 2024 presidential race?

Mike: The pro-life community methodically worked for 50 years, both politically and legally, to achieve this moment. To directly answer your question, work will continue in every state. But in states like NJ, NY, New England, the West Coast and elsewhere, it is very unlikely to have the same political and legal success because Democrats have overwhelming control. In those states, pro-life elected officials and activists will be better off advocating for policies that reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, promote adoption and economically support low-income families and babies after they’re born. In NJ, reducing the need for and number of abortions is a goal that should be agreed upon across the political spectrum.

Julie: As a Democrat, I tip my hat to the far right. While we were marching with our pussy hats on, they were organizing. The Federalist Society groomed judges from state courts all the way up to the Supreme Court. GOPAC groomed legislative candidates to take over statehouses. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) wrote model legislation to make it easier for elected officials to pass these regressive laws. And now Congress is well-positioned to pass federal legislation outlawing abortion, which the next Republican president will sign. Marching is easy. It makes you feel good. Spending years organizing, identifying prospective judges and candidates, electing them, and moving them up the political ladder is much harder and doesn’t have the same instantaneous fuzzy feeling payoff. But it is much more important, and on that score, I fear that my party is two generations behind.

Q. I attended a rally Wednesday night in Maplewood where Reps. Mikie Sherrill and Tom Malinowski both used their time to fire up the base over the Court’s decision. Does the issue give Democrats a leg up in suburban races like theirs? How might it affect Malinowski’s likely rematch with Sen. Tom Kean Jr. in November?

Mike: Democrats are in charge in Washington – White House, Senate and House. They have an opportunity to codify abortion rights into federal law this year, which they won’t. So, this is just another opportunity for the Democratic base to become disappointed with their party’s inability to get anything done, potentially dispiriting their turnout. There’s no doubt this decision changes the dynamics of the midterms, but the question remains as to how much. Single-issue pro-choice voters already vote Democrat. The question remains whether this moves some pro-choice independent and moderate voters, particularly women, to become single-issue voters.

Julie: I started my career at Emily’s List because I wanted to elect more pro-choice women to office. But as someone who elects candidates for a living, I have not seen one focus group – not a one – where abortion is the animating factor for undecided voters. When you ask voters about Roe v. Wade, support for it polls off the charts, but issues that poll well are not necessarily issues that get voters to the polls. If you are a one-issue voter and abortion is your issue, you are deeply engaged politically and you are likely already voting for Reps. Malinowski or Sherrill. To win, Democrats need to focus on issues most voters lose sleep over every night: how to pay for basic goods, how to pay for college, how to commute to work every day, how to pay for that life-saving drug or surgery. We Democrats have to start focusing on issues voters care about, not on issues we wish voters cared about.

Q. In Ohio’s primary, we saw a decisive win for J.D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy, who was trailing just a few weeks ago, before Donald Trump endorsed him. Was it that endorsement? Was it the record $15 million from Peter Thiel, the arch-conservative venture capitalist? Or was it the love and care from Tucker Carlson? What’s your takeaway?

Mike: I followed this race closely. JD Vance was left for dead early this year but ran a smart, aggressive race focused on the Trump coalition. The key here was they ran a race in Ohio that put him in the position to capitalize on the Trump endorsement if he got it while surrounding Trump with advocates, like Thiel and Tucker, pushing for the endorsement. Vance then had momentum and the right coalition coming together, so Trump’s endorsement could put him over the top. There are some candidates, like David Purdue in Georgia, who receive the Trump endorsement and don’t know what to do with it. Purdue will lose, even with the Trump endorsement, so much of this is decided campaign by campaign, but there’s no doubt Trump helped put Vance over the top.

Julie: Vance is a quasi-celebrity who got an endorsement from a president who is still popular with the base, tens of millions of dollars of free advertising from the top cable news host in the nation, and millions more in indirect funding from a billionaire tech titan. Add to that the fact that his main opponent was a stale perennial candidate and it’s no surprise that he pulled this off. The same combination of factors may work in the Pennsylvania Senate primary, since you have another celebrity candidate who may be supported by the same crew, but it will not work in places like Georgia where otherwise popular Republicans like Gov. Kemp are on the ballot.

Q. Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican, introduced a bill to reinstate military personnel who were fired for refusing to take the Covid vaccine. He appeared this week with former Marine Bill Borowsky from Point Pleasant, who said he refused on safety grounds. “There are no long-term studies,” he said. “To me, it wasn’t an order, it was a political agenda.” Thoughts?

Mike: I am pro-vaxx, but I am also pro-being fair to those who put their lives on the line for us. Now that the threat has lessened, we should be reinstating any military, law enforcement officer or first responder who refused. I’m a Nets fan and support New Jersey’s own Kyrie Irving. If he can be reinstated to play basketball in Brooklyn, then cops and firefighters should get their jobs back, too.

Julie: As long as the military has a vaccinate mandate, military personnel should abide by it. There were no long-term studies when George Washington made his troops get the smallpox vaccine and it worked out without Chris Smith having to get involved.

Q. The Federal Reserve slammed on the brakes with a half-point increase in interest rates, the largest bump in a generation, and a promise of more to come. How is this strategy going to affect the mid-terms? How about the state budget?

Mike: The Fed waited too long, and the last round of stimulus under Biden was unnecessary, doubly exacerbating our problem. In the early 90′s when we saw an economic downturn at the end of Bush 41 and heading into the Clinton years, then-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan acted quickly and aggressively, arresting the economic downturn in its tracks, helping usher in some great economic years. The moves this year have been too slow or too late, so will now have to be prolonged, which will limit its effect, perhaps extending inflation and lowering home values. None of this is good for Biden and Democrats politically.

Julie: The Fed raised rates drastically in the first years of Reagan’s presidency and caused two recessions in the process. Now, then-Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker is viewed as the greatest Fed chair in history and Reagan went on to win re-election in a landslide. This may cost Democrats big in November, but it may be a gift to Biden’s re-election.

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Q. Finally, an intriguing idea on climate from Ralph Izzo, the CEO of PSEG. He says the United States should turbocharge its production and export of natural gas as a cheaper substitute for coal, warning that we will lose the climate flight if the nearly 500 new coal plants under development globally are actually built. Izzo’s strategy would mean more fracking, more pipelines, and more investments in fossil fuels. But is there another way?

Mike: Ralph Izzo is one of the brightest minds in the state, and on this, he is exactly right. There is simply nothing that could be done, and nothing even remotely close, that would bring down global emissions faster than US exports of natural gas to reduce coal usage globally. But environmental zealots in the US fight any infrastructure it would take to do this, hurting the environment. Ramping up natural gas production will also help us transition sooner at home to renewables while keeping energy prices reasonable.

Julie: We can look at this from both a climate perspective and a geopolitical perspective. Exporting more natural gas will wean Europe and others off Russian oil and gas faster. At the same time, we should be ramping up production and availability of renewables at a much faster rate. But fundamentally, this is not something New Jersey can decide to do on its own. The energy markets don’t respect state borders or even national borders.

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A note to readers: Mike and Julie are both deeply engaged in politics and commercial advocacy in New Jersey, so both have connections to many players we discuss in this column. Given that, we will not normally disclose each specific connection, trusting that readers understand they are not impartial observers. DuHaime, the founder of Mad Global Strategy, was chief political advisor to former Gov. Chris Christie, and has worked for Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and President George W. Bush. Roginsky, a principal of Optimus Communications, has served as senior advisor to campaigns of Cory Booker, Frank Lautenberg and Phil Murphy, and has worked with Rep. Phil Norcross, the brother of George Norcross. We will disclose specific connections only when readers might otherwise be misled.