With only days left until the election and lagging in the polls, New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, a Republican, rolled out a tough-on-illegal-immigration TV ad many viewed as a departure from her moderate conservative persona.
Despite the success of a similar message on a national level for President Donald Trump, experts said Guadagno’s eleventh-hour pitch could backfire in heavily Democratic New Jersey.
Entitled “Sanctuary,” the ad denounces Democrat Phil Murphy’s stance on illegal immigration by invoking the 2007 Newark schoolyard shootings in which three students died and a fourth was left sexually assaulted, stabbed, and shot.
One of the perpetrators, Jose Carranza, was in the country illegally.
The ad plays on a statement Murphy made at a press event when asked about protecting undocumented immigrants living in New Jersey, even if some of those immigrants may have criminal backgrounds. “My bias is gonna be having their back,” Murphy said.
The ad makes the connection. “Make no mistake: Murphy will have the backs of deranged murderers like Carranza, providing sanctuary in New Jersey,” a narrator says. “Murphy doesn’t have our backs. He has theirs.”
Democrats immediately pounced on the ad, claiming it was more fear-mongering than fact-based.
Former Vice President Joe Biden called it “the return of Willie Horton,” a reference to a 1988 TV ad blaming Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis for a rape and robbery committed by a furloughed prisoner.
But Guadagno has continued to press the issue.
The former Monmouth County sheriff knocked Murphy for suggesting he would make New Jersey a “sanctuary state.” Although his proposal is scant on details, the idea generally refers to local law enforcement refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officers.
Guadagno also noted that Trump has proposed withholding federal funding from sanctuary cities, which could deal New Jersey a serious financial blow if both Murphy and Trump made good on their promises.
“A sanctuary state will harbor criminals, it will impact and challenge law enforcement officers, and … it will put at risk millions of dollars of funding for those people you want to help the most,” Guadagno said at a gubernatorial debate in October.
Political analysts said the move was a calculated attempt by Guadagno, down by double digits in the polls, to boost her campaign.
“This is probably a Hail Mary pass aimed at attracting both attention from a lot of New Jerseyans who aren’t paying attention but also from national Republican political donors,” said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University.
But it is a risk for Guadagno, once viewed as a moderate Republican who understood the need to court Latino voters. She kicked off her campaign at a Mexican restaurant and picked Cuban native Carlos Rendo as her running mate.
Harrison said the ad may turn off some of the state’s more moderate Republicans.
And, if Guadagno loses Nov. 7, those voters may remember this moment were she to run for office in the future.
“There was the chance before this ad that perhaps she could’ve done some other thing,” Harrison said, “but I think that this has alienated a lot of Republicans even if they don’t publicly admit so.”