A Day Inside the Campaign Field Office of New Jersey’s Next Governor
By: Marc Licciardi
New Jersey elected former Goldman Sachs executive and Ambassador to Germany, Democrat Phil Murphy, to replace Governor Chris Christie last Tuesday
I helped out on Phil Murphy’s campaign, as well as a number of local races, over the summer while interning for my local Democratic Committee. Despite being in a blue state near so many urban liberal enclaves, my county is unusually conservative, having mostly voted for Trump last year. After eight years of a Republican governor, eight years of a Republican mayor, and 22 years of the same Republican congressman, Democrats in my suburban hometown of Parsippany were desperate for major victory.
Ahead of election day, I decided to take the train home during the weekend to breathe some Garden State air and help make one final effort for the candidates I had spent so many hours working to get elected. Murphy’s win seemed like a guarantee to me considering his opponent was the Lieutenant of the least popular Governor in America. The race for mayor, however, was much closer and I felt a personal commitment to the man running, having worked somewhat closely with him.
Michael Soriano is a true Eagle Scout. He enjoys fixing flags and talking to voters about anything from Star Wars to American history. He earns the respect of everyone he meets and his smile is impossible not to return. It also didn’t hurt that I was going to get paid $50 for each three hours of work. Later, I learned I would also have the opportunity to speak to the future governor, as well as my senator, Cory Booker, who was coming to rally supporters. The situation worked out conveniently, as I had a class assignment which I thought could benefit nicely from some of their quotes.
Inside the office Saturday morning, staffers handed out packets with flyers and lists of addresses while they explain directions to canvassers, who typically work in pairs. Our job was to walk door-to-door, reminding people that there is an election approaching and handing out door-hangers with ads for Democratic candidates. Each of us knocked on the doors of about 100 potential voters. The houses we visit were determined by a database of voters from across the county.
Most people do not answer their doors. Generally, when they do answer they are friendly but apathetic. And usually, we didn’t encounter many hostile people because they are generally removed from the database if that’s the case. But of course, there’s always one who yells “Thank you!” and slams the door in your face. You also learn to avoid houses with signs for your opponent. It is rewarding, however, when you get the occasional sincere “Thank you.”
I was astounded by the transformation of our workspace. When I first started there, it was a single bare white room with some tables, usually occupied by just a handful of interns and maybe two staff members. It felt like a genuine campaign headquarters complete with desks, dividers, and a fleet of 60 canvassers coming and going. Originally, the building was supposed to be the Trump campaign’s New Jersey field office, but one of my coworkers leased it with some help from the Murphy campaign with the goal of preventing our town from being associated with Trump.
Slowly, the office started to fill with guests in preparation the rally. MSNBC was on in the background. The news panel discusses former Chair of the Democratic National Committee Donna Brazile’s recent claim that the Committee acted “unethically” during the primaries as a result of a “secret takeover” by the Clinton campaign.
Notably, Tammy Murphy, the future First Lady of the state, visited the office. Though I’d met her just a couple times before, she was a graceful and friendly to me. I spoke to her briefly about her husband’s slogan “A Stronger and Fairer New Jersey.” She said that the word “fairer” partially signified her belief that “Chris Christie and Kim Guadagno have only catered to the top 1 percent of our state,” she said. “They’ve catered to the very wealthy corporations and very wealthy individuals.”
When I cheerfully mentioned this to another intern later, he sarcastically answered “they would know about wealthy individuals alright.”
At a certain point, the building reached its capacity and everyone was forced to move outside for the event. In total, roughly 300 attended the rally. Senator Booker arrived to a thunderous wave of cheers and applause which he rode masterfully to deliver a powerful speech. He spoke predominantly about “love” and “interdependence,” reminiscent of his 2016 Democratic National Convention speech. Many parts, seemingly, were repeated verbatim. He finished warming up the crowd for Murphy and walked over to where I was standing with some of the people running for office.
“Senator, after the Ambassador finishes his speech, can I ask you a few questions?” He replied that I could when one of the candidates introduced me as a campaign intern.
Later that night, when I asked Senator Booker about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s comment that the primary was “rigged,” he didn’t answer my question. “You should reach out to our team if you want to talk about things from the past,” he responded.
Somewhat stunned by the ice-cold response from my own Senator, I decided to step back for a moment to speak to Murphy. When I asked him what his first priorities were going to be, he replied “The big bulk of it will be in two areas: the economy and getting back to standing for the right things again. A lot of the stuff I talked about. Things like minimum wage, growing the economy, Planned Parenthood.”
Additionally, Murphy is also expected to legalize marijuana and make New Jersey a sanctuary state for undocumented immigrants.
I tried to his attention again to ask him one more question as his large body guard watched and laughed. “You crazy, man,” he said.
Before I had the chance though, Murphy yelled “Watch this!” and then half-jokingly broke into a sprint and hopped into his car.
I then returned to the area Cory Booker was standing. He was giving an interview to a New York Times reporter. He spoke at great length about the idea of “fairness.”
I had a long list of questions, any of which would have been relevant to my class assignment, but given our last interaction there was only one thing I could say. “Do you think the National Committee operated fairly?” I blurted out.
“I have never dealt with the National Committee. I’m a guy from Jersey. I ran here,” Booker replied. “I had to do my own thing. The National Committee had nothing to do with my issues.” He then walked away.
As I was leaving a stranger stopped me. “Hey, I’m a reporter from the Washington Post,” he said. “I just wanted to tell you, nice hustle today.”
When all was said and done, we won the race for mayor by over 700 votes.