Christie's secrets

Rumors continue to swirl around New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman's withdrawal from the Senate race, including hints of a future role with George W. Bush.

Topics: Republican Party, New Jersey,

It started with the haircut.

When New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman began making public appearances with a new, Janet Reno-esque coif three weeks ago, people started to wonder, “What’s wrong with her? Is she ill”?

Nobody in her administration would dare say anything on the record, lest they offend the most powerful woman in the state, but many acknowledged that the cut was a bit severe. “It’s functional. Her hair is not a priority,” said one campaign advisor, judiciously.

A congressional staffer tried to be more positive: “I like it! It’s like George Clooney.”

Last we checked, however, George Clooney was a man.

No sooner had Whitman unveiled her new look than she dropped her real bombshell: She was pulling out of the Senate race to replace senior Democrat
Frank Lautenberg, who is retiring at the end of his current term.

Whitman was widely regarded as the strong favorite to replace Lautenberg, and the Democrats had been scrambling to find a viable candidate to run against her. But all of a sudden, she was quitting.

Robert Arena of Presage Internet Campaigns, a consultant to the Whitman campaign, told Salon News, “She couldn’t give 110 percent. She couldn’t be the kind of candidate she wanted to be and the kind of governor she wanted to be at the same time. For her, being governor is the best job.”

Still, the news came as a shock to most people — even to some on her staff. When
reports of her dropping out began to leak before she made the official announcement, her office was flooded with phone calls from around the state and from Washington. While her campaigners stressed on the phone that “the governor is indeed busy running a campaign,” the people on the other end of the line began responding, “Actually, she isn’t.”

When the press wanted to delve even further, Whitman’s staff began elaborating on the problems of campaigning, especially the dreaded “F-word”: fund-raising. Even though Whitman had already amassed more than $2 million (which the campaign will most likely return to contributors), her fund-raising schedule had her traveling to dozens of out-of-state events, some as far away as Arizona.

At a time when most people find it difficult to take politicians at their
word, speculation about Whitman’s true motives was inevitable. According to Sherry Sylvester, the chief political writer for the Trentonian newspaper, the rumors run the gamut: “from illness to political scandals to scandals involving her financier husband, John Whitman, to marital difficulties stemming from an alleged fight in which John allegedly stated that she must run and she responded, ‘I don’t have to do anything!’”

While there is no direct evidence of ill health, the rumors that Whitman might be sick are associated both with the bad haircut and a recent trip she took to Nova Scotia on which no photo ops were allowed. One campaign source suggested to Salon News, however, that “she could just as easily have been meeting with George W. Bush, discussing a possible Bush-Whitman ticket” while she was out of sight.

There also has been talk in political circles about her getting a cabinet post in a Bush White House, but according to sources close to Whitman, the more likely scenario involves her seeking the vice presidency — despite her pro-choice position and other political stands that have not played well with the GOP’s conservative base.

According to one campaign official, since it now appears likely that Pat Buchanan will run as a pro-life third party candidate, draining away conservative votes from the GOP, the main challenge to Bush will be to capture the swing vote, the Reagan Democrats. If so, the ideal candidate for this effort would be someone like Whitman or New York Gov. George Pataki.

Whatever her motives for quitting the Senate race, Whitman appeared upbeat after her announcement, and began appearing on all the political talk shows — indicating that she does not exactly consider this an exit from the political arena.

Whitman’s national aspirations may hit a few roadblocks, however. For one thing, there is a disparity between Whitman’s immense national popularity and her somewhat tempered reputation in her own state. New Jersey residents are more concerned about the state’s soaring property taxes — and her move to fund state pensions by floating a $2.9 billion bond — than with any fantasies she may have about becoming the first female vice president.

And the general consensus among journalists following her candidacy is that, when all is said and done, Christine Todd Whitman is just plain tired.

While her upscale upbringing was far from a struggle, and she hails from a political family, Whitman’s electoral experiences have been anything but comfortable. Her first statewide election was a 1990 attempt to unseat then-Sen. Bill Bradley, and she lost.

At the time, Democratic Gov. James Florio was facing a huge backlash from voters after having embarked on a $2.8 billion state tax hike — the largest in American history. Florio’s tax package proved disastrous to the state’s economy, ruining the boating industry, among others. New Jerseyans were fuming, and took the opportunity to take out their ire on Bradley, whom Whitman charged had not done enough to stop his fellow Democrat Florio from raising the taxes.

Nevertheless, Bradley beat Whitman, 50-47 percent.

Whitman next focused her sights on the governor’s office, and launched a bitter campaign against Florio two years later.

But Whitman was not a natural campaigner, and despite Florio’s high negative ratings, she barely squeaked into office, by 49-48 percent.

In 1996, her re-election run was yet another reminder of her weaknesses on the campaign trail. Running as an incumbent, Whitman faced a serious challenge from
little-known Jim McGreevey, a mayor from Woodbridge. The governor barely survived, winning 47-46 percent.

With an electoral record like this (it’s what some of her campaign workers cynically term “the Whitman landslide”), Whitman had to harbor some concerns about running for the Senate.

And there was still the fund-raising question: Did she really want to go from place to place raising an estimated $17 million, in increments no greater than $1,000? Probably not.

Whatever her motives, Whitman has made one group happy by exiting the race. From underdog to mighty dog, the Democrats now think they can keep the Lautenberg seat in the party, with either Florio or former Goldman Sachs CEO Jon Corzine emerging as their likely candidate. Meanwhile it is the Republicans who now have to scramble to field a viable contender.

All of which may signal the end of Whitman’s political career in her home state once her current term expires — unless, of course, it turns out that all that speculation about a Bush connection is true, after all.

Victorino Matus is associate editor at the Weekly Standard.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>