These New Jersey Parents Are Breaking Up With the Democratic Party–And It’s All About Schools

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Yesterday the Wall Street Journal ran a feature story on New Jersey voters who, once loyal Democrats, are so frustrated with their Party’s pandemic policies and politics that they’re starting to vote for GOP candidates. Sadly it’s behind a paywall so here are the highlights from “School Reopening Mess Drives Frustrated Parents Towards GOP.”

  • During last year’s gubernatorial election, Jennifer Loughran, a Bridgewater-Raritan school board member and long-time Democrat, “decided her opposition to her party’s mask mandates, economic restrictions and school-closure policies outweighed her support for positions on climate change, abortion and gay rights, at least for the moment.” So, as she watched her daughter fall behind in virtual kindergarten, she cast her vote for Jack Ciattarelli instead of Phil Murphy. “My party-line vote shouldn’t be taken for granted anymore,” she said.
  • “The defection of once-loyal voters like Ms. Loughran—along with disapproval from independents—is among the challenges Democrats face in their bid to retain control of Congress and win state-level races in this November’s midterm elections. These voters say Democratic officials left pandemic restrictions in place too long and mishandled the health crisis, with devastating consequences for their children, while Republicans have generally pushed to minimize school closures and keep the economy open.” This is especially true in Northeast states like New Jersey, longtime Democratic strongholds.
  • For Longhran, her decision to switch parties was driven by long lockdowns while her she tried to keep her kindergartner engaged on a laptop. At the same time she had a toddler who needed attention, plus the devastating diagnosis of an infant son with Tay-Sachs disease, a fatal condition. Her vote for Ciattarelli was the first time she’d ever voted for a Republican.
  • Ciattarelli only lost by 3 points to Murphy, a far closer race than predicted. He attributed his strong showing to “pandemic fatigue,” comparable to the Virginia race where Glenn Youngkin beat Terry McAuliffe, campaigning largely on school issues.
  • “Interviews with New Jersey voters revealed that some Democrats’ breaks from their party last fall were neither flippant nor fleeting. Many described personal struggles to stress what they viewed as the needs of their family or community over partisanship. For some, mandates over vaccines and masks violated personal convictions over choices about their health that sparked fears about other potential invasions of privacy. Others expressed a newfound nuance to their political approach, prompted by faith in the party that has been shaken but not yet forsaken.”
  • Another longtime Democrat from Bridgewater told the Journal, “Democrats have left me so disillusioned.” While she’s “far-left” on global warming and gay rights, she’ll probably vote for Republican Tom Kean Jr. for Congress this fall instead of incumbent Tom Malinowski. “Everything is a balance,” she said. Kean says he’s seen “pandemic frustration manifest itself on the campaign trail as inflation has become a concern. ‘We lost an entire year of learning,’ he said, ‘and New Jersey only got less and less affordable.’”
  • In Bridgewater specifically, where Democrats usually win by large margins, Ciattarelli won by 5 points. (This is the district where the school board passed a resolution demanding Murphy allow remote instruction in Fall 2021 instead of forcing everyone back into school buildings.)
  • Rachel Keane, a 35-year-old registered nurse and mother of two who lives in West Orange said she had never voted Republican until last fall, when she opted for Ciattarelli and every other Republican candidate on her ballot. She worried about how her liberal parents would perceive her vote but described her decision as an awakening. She had always supported the party without a second thought, but her anger over the governor’s mask requirements for children made her question that loyalty. “I knew I wasn’t going to vote for Murphy, but wasn’t sure if I was going to leave it blank or what,” she said. “Then I just got angry…And I voted Republican all the way down the line.”
  • Why did Ms. Keane abandon Murphy and the Dems? She was frustrated with how long schools were closed. She felt compelled to enroll her five-year-old in a private kindergarten, which cost $1,200 a month. She remains “distressed about her party and wasn’t sure how she would vote this fall.”
  • As for new school board member and former staunch Democrat Jennifer Loughran, who lost her son to Tay-Sachs when he was 17 months old, she worried about betraying family members who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. and whether voting for a Republican “might disappoint her gay and transgender friends.” But she’s certain about this: “The lesson I took away from this was that people are capable of rising to the occasion without being mandated by the government. Government isn’t the solution. It’s a tool, and we need to be more skilled at using it.”

Are Democratic leaders paying attention?

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