Even before he lost Tuesday’s Republican primary for governor, Seth Grossman talked about his campaign in the past tense, telling a reporter who spoke with him last week about the lessons he has learned.
Now that he has lost, Grossman, 64, the tea party candidate, said Wednesday he hoped others would build on his efforts.
Grossman, a Somers Point attorney and former Atlantic County freeholder, lost overwhelmingly to Gov. Chris Christie in Tuesday’s primary. With about 98 percent of precincts reporting, Grossman received 17,677 votes, or a little more than 11 percent — a far cry from the 45 percent or so he had said he hoped to win.
Grossman had tried to position himself as the more conservative alternative to Christie, supporting laws that he said would be fairer for everyone, rather than the sort of state intervention that enabled the Revel casino to be completed. But Christie all but ignored him, concentrating on the Democratic candidate, state Sen. Barbara Buono.
Tea party candidates such as Grossman have historically had little success in New Jersey.
None has won state legislative seats or statewide office. The best showing so far was by Anna C. Little, who won primaries in 2010 and 2012 in New Jersey’s 6th Congressional District, but she lost both general elections to current Democratic U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone.
On Wednesday, Grossman said conservatives have had productive conversations regarding what to do now. One thing, he said, is the importance of social media. While he said his campaign drew attention there, that growth only started in the final legs of the race.
Another thing, he said, was the importance of organizing a campaign earlier than he did. “You have to start campaigning by Labor Day for the following June,” Grossman said. “I think you’re going to see a lot more people taking this a lot more seriously.”
Ultimately, Grossman said he believed the biggest beneficiary of his organizing will be Steve Lonegan, the tea party leader who announced Wednesday he will seek the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
Lonegan, the state director of Americans for Prosperity, has twice run unsuccessfully for governor, but did not support Grossman’s bid.
Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State College, said she thought Grossman’s results were symptomatic of his difficulties. The tea party message resonates more strongly when the opponent is more liberal and less popular than Christie, she said.
That, and the fact that Christie has embraced some tea party policies, reduced Grossman’s chances. She agreed that the tea party movement has had little impact on New Jersey, calling it “inconsistent with our political culture.”
Christie’s popularity was also a factor. She said many conservatives were resistant to targeting Christie rather than another Democrat.
“When you have one statewide Republican elected to state office, many conservatives consider it spinning your wheels to make that the target of your efforts,” she said.
Grossman remained undeterred. He said he believed that Lonegan might still utilize the people who were interested in his campaign.
“We have a message and we have volunteers, but we don’t have the money, the staff or the connections,” Grossman said. “If Steve Lonegan plugs into these enthusiastic volunteers, he may have something.”
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