Spotlight on the Upcoming Elections

October 31, 2013

The 2013 Gubernatorial Race

It’s quite a challenge for the media to cover this year’s gubernatorial race fairly.

In Chris Christie, we have a larger-than-life incumbent governor who has a finely tuned messaging operation and the attention of the national media. He outmatches his opponent, State Sen. Barbara Buono, in polling and money. What’s more, he has the power of incumbency to make his case and he knows how to use it.

His communications operation is second to none — both inside the campaign and in the statehouse. A typical week during this campaign might include four Christie events serving as governor, five events as a candidate, one or two events scheduled for his wife, Mary Pat, and number of appearances by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.

These events will then be videotaped and one of his communications teams will edit the appearance into an interesting snippet, put it up on YouTube, and distribute it widely. Social media will be used to highlight these sound and video bites, and they’ll be offered to the press and supporters. There will be official press releases from either the Christie administration or the campaign every day, additional press-only briefs that explain Christie’s position in the best light. Then there are the attack memos, outlining Buono’s statements and explaining the Christie position. This is all in addition to his advertising and appearances on national TV programs.

Since the Christie administration has chosen to limit press access to the workings of government — with a few exceptions — to statements emanating from the governor’s office for the duration of the campaign, the message is very tightly controlled. Christie’s story is that he is on watch, using his common sense to do the best for New Jersey, and he is doing it with bipartisan support.

The sheer magnitude of the Christie message machine creates a huge obstacle for Buono. She is out-powered and can’t hope to compete with Christie’s constant drumbeat on her own. She offers her own versions of all of the above, but even if she manages to score a point or two, her story gets lost in the noise.

So how can the media treat the two campaigns fairly? It’s not the job of the press to give Buono a helping hand; in fact, that would be wrong. But it is our job to provide information that the public needs to make an honest assessment of the candidates.

Tuning Out the Noise, Focusing on the Issues

At NJ Spotlight, we’ve decided that our small staff can make a virtue out of necessity and disregard the chatter. We ignore most of the press conferences and daily campaign events. Instead, we chose what we think are the key issues of most interest to voters and have done in-depth looks at each candidate’s positions and records. That isn’t as easy as you may think. Christie, for instance, doesn’t mention any issues on his campaign website.

NJ Spotlight Elections 2013 section

This approach allows us to focus on substance rather than message. The issues we looked at are jobs and the economy; budget and taxes; education; environment; healthcare; transportation; and social issues. We’re publishing these stories on our website and putting it together in a single package.

I hope voters take notice because they’ll get a better understanding of the candidates and what they can expect in the next four years.

Of course, we haven’t limited our coverage to where the candidates stand on issues, although I do think it’s NJ Spotlight’s most important contribution. What policies a governor puts in place have direct impact on the state’s citizens. But we’ve also written stories on campaign finance, the debates and profiles of the lieutenant governor candidates, among other things.

A Resource for Voters

Our Elections 2013 section takes a broader view, offering voters most of the information they need when deciding on candidates for the legislature. NJ Spotlight has a profile of every legislative district, with candidate information. In the seven most contested districts, we’ve provided a closer look at the candidates and their platforms. A list of voter resources and an interactive map round out the site.

NJ Spotlight offers this coverage because we know that state government has the most direct impact on the day-to-day lives of New Jerseyans of any form of government — more than the federal and municipal governments. It is the state that decides how to implement almost all federal policies – whether it comes to healthcare or social services.

And it’s the state that is most responsible for our schools, our environment, our energy needs and our transportation and road systems. That’s why our motto is “news, issues and insight for New Jersey” and why I urge everyone to take the time to consider the key issues and vote on Tuesday.

Lee Keough is a founder and the managing editor of NJ Spotlight, an online news service that delivers insight and information on issues critical to New Jersey, with the aim of informing and engaging the state’s communities and businesses. NJ Spotlight is nonpartisan, independent, policy-centered, and community-minded.