By Matt Rooney. Cross posted from Save Jersey
What a night, Save Jerseyans.
Off-the-line Tea Party darling Anna Little continues to cling to a slim 104-vote lead over her multi-millionaire, establishment-backed opponent Diane Gooch in the CD-6 Republican primary. Suffice it to say, you can expect both sides to retain legal counsel as the Monmouth County BOE examines provisional ballots.
So exactly how did Anna Little do it? No other rebel congressional candidates were able to break through the "tea ceiling" this year except her. Win, lose or draw, what made Mayor Little different?
Mayor Little developed credibility with voters, Save Jerseyans, and not just because she's a former freeholder and current mayor (a resume that inspires more confidence than Justin Murphy's "self-employment" through his campaign account). The key difference here also goes deeper than a mere issue of vetting, too, where New Jersey's Tea Party groups failed to consistently promote acceptable alternatives to the status quo (many would cite John Aslanian up in CD-9 as an example).
This is really a matter of appropriate messaging. Rather than campaign endlessly against "the establishment," Mayor Little fielded a positive campaign focused primarily on her own positions and convictions -- not her opponents' shortcomings.
She didn't exactly shy away from the contrast between herself and Diane Gooch. When I interviewed Mayor Little last week, she openly questioned her opponent's stances on a number of hot button issues for conservatives. But I think many other Tea Party candidates failed to seal the deal last night largely because they cast their respective elections as little more than referendums on establishment-backed opponents. For example, in CD-7, voters essentially had a choice between Leonard Lance and not Leonard Lance. "David Larsen who? Oh yeah -- that guy who trashes Leonard Lance. Is he a Democrat?" The same could be said for most of these districts, and the well-funded candidate with better name recognition is going to survive that kind of a challenge virtually every time.
CD-6 was different. Voters could choose the establishment candidate or Anna Little -- a credible, real person owing to her clearly articulated conservative beliefs. Mayor Little's Christie-style pugnaciousness and down-to-earth approach to retail politics gave her a sense of authenticity that Ms. Gooch's campaign, while well-funded, has not yet developed. That was the difference last night in Monmouth and Middlesex, and it just might be the difference in November if Little's little (sorry, bad pun) 104-vote lead remains intact through the provisional ballot tally and possible recount to come.