By John Burton |
RED BANK — “I don’t think there is more that I could have done,” said Republican state Sen. Jennifer Beck as she offered a postmortem on the Nov. 7 election results that saw her losing her 11th District seat.
Beck, a veteran of the Legislature in both the Assembly and the Senate dating back to 2006, lost her race for re-election this month to Democrat Vin Gopal.
Looking back on the race a couple of weeks out, Beck has evaluated the campaign and this year’s public perspective that she feels factored into the outcome.
“It was a clear backlash against Gov. Christie.” Beck was emphatic in her assessment. “It was palpable as we went door to door” campaigning, she said. “It didn’t matter if you were a Republican, a Democrat,” she offered. “It was a universal dislike of our sitting governor.”
Republican Christie, who is coming to the end of his two-term limit, has a statewide approval rating that has been hovering around 15 percent since the summer months. In her district, which leans Democratic, Beck said Christie’s job approval is somewhere in the vicinity of 11 percent. Compounding matters, Beck continued, is the general dislike of President Donald Trump, a Republican, among New Jersey voters. His approval rating stands at about 28 percent in the county, and around 18 in the 11th District. (Nationally, Trump’s approval rating is at approximately 35 percent or slightly lower, depending on the poll.) “It was the wave,” against Republican candidates affecting races in New Jersey and Virginia, as well as elsewhere around the country, she said. “There was a backlash against Republicans nationally,” which Beck maintained affected Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s race for the governor’s office, as well as down-ballot GOP candidates in many of her district’s municipalities.
Christie’s current numbers, she observed, are worse than when Democrat Jim Florio, who was widely pilloried by the public and political commentators, ran unsuccessfully for re-election in 1993, taking down legislative Democrats as well. “Even worse than Jim Florio!” she drove home the point. “That gives you a sense of where we’re at.”
Beck had run this year with Ocean Deputy Mayor Robert Acerra and Red Bank Borough Councilman Michael Whelan as the Assembly candidates, who lost to incumbent Democrats Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey (who had won two years ago in a surprising victory over two incumbent Republicans).
Beck’s campaigning stamina has become the stuff of political lore and it appears this year was no different. She and her running mates knocked on more than 11,000 doors to meet voters. The candidates conducted community meetings in the various towns in the district, ran TV and radio ads, used social media, and sent email blasts and even handwritten notes to constituents.
Beck alleged she was outspent by Democrats by a nearly 6- or 7-to-1 ratio, or roughly more than $7 million, believing her opponents and the party organization dropped about $2 million on TV ads against her during the campaign’s last days. “That’s a difficult scenario to overcome,” she acknowledged.
And in the final assessment the election’s outcome, “It really was a perfect storm,” that did Beck and her running mates in, she maintained.
Representing a district that is made up by a large number of registered voters from the competing party makes campaigning hard work, she said. “But I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” she added, believing the residents in many ways benefit from living in a politically competitive district. “I had to go and earn their respect and votes,” she explained, “to make sure I delivered results for them…to be an effective legislator.”
Looking back on her career in the Senate, first representing the 12th District which was redistricted to the 11th, Beck points to achievements she said continue to make her proud. Her work on getting a number of bills that offered protection for those with developmental disabilities stands out, she said. Another area that has been a mission with the senator has been securing additional state education funding for public school districts like Red Bank and Freehold, which have been traditionally underfunded by Trenton. “I’ve been able to fight for a lot of people who wouldn’t have had a voice otherwise.”
The work on school funding should drive home a message for all voters, she said. Beck rallied educators and parents and joined those from other legislative and school districts to make their case for more funding. “What became clear to me is that residents adding their voices to an issue does move their elected officials in a dramatic way,” she noted.
In December, she’s planning to meet with Gopal as he prepares to take office. “I want to do what I can to make the transition as smooth as possible,” she offered.
Politics have been a big part of her life for quite a while. Beck had served two three-year terms on the Red Bank Borough Council before being elected to the Assembly. She had also served as chief of staff for the late assemblyman Joseph Azzolina, a Republican who represented the county’s Bayshore area for many years. She has also worked for the MWW Group, an influential lobbying and public relations firm and currently still owns JAB Marketing, a small marketing firm.
“It’s been a remarkable opportunity,” to hold public office and serve the people of her district, she said, “and it’s very humbling being the voice of the people.”
As to what thoughts she’s given to her future career, all Beck would say at this point is “I have not gone there yet.”
This article was first published in the Nov. 23-30, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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