Sometimes it just takes a little magic to motivate a state’s Republican base. After an drubbing in 2016 and a series of elections this year that have only featured names familiar to Northeastern voters, New Jersey’s Republican Party has an enthusiasm edge when it comes to supporting President Trump. And its founder, Ed Durr Jr., the lobbyist turned state party chairman, is its chief creative thinker.
As a proud and committed Donald Trump Republican, who was the first in his own family to vote for the president, it should come as no surprise that Durr has used his strong ties to the president to inspire grassroots Republicans across the state to support his policies and help turn the 2018 midterm elections into an all-Republican bonanza for the GOP.
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After his father died in 1992, Durr organized a team of state GOP luminaries to reshape the state party. Over time, those efforts have become increasingly focused on electing reliable, conservative Republicans to the Senate and House.
In 2010, only eight GOP senators had been elected in New Jersey’s history, and the election of some establishment-backed candidates to state Senate and Assembly seats was more or less considered a complete wash. Durr made a conscious effort to harness the optimism of President Trump supporters in the state. He got a lot of help from Bannonite social media enthusiasts, who helped him attract people like former Breitbart reporter Todd Harris and Alex Marlow, a long-time supporter of Sarah Palin.
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Durr teamed up with these young, data-savvy political operatives to launch an innovative voter database, which was eventually used to develop an ad campaign that reached 70 percent of the state’s active voters. The ad campaign targeted Hispanic voters, highlighting an immigration group that collected documents about illegal immigrants’ home town and churches where they worshiped in New Jersey. The campaign was one of a number of initiatives that focused on the state’s urban immigrant population, particularly South Asians and Hispanics.
As a result of the campaign, the Hispanic voter turnout rose sharply, a result that helped the GOP take 10 seats from the state’s Democratic-controlled Assembly in 2010 and 6 more seats from Democrats in the State Senate in 2012.
“We moved the needle a lot in New Jersey,” Durr told me recently. “The bottom line is that we had a lot of volunteers who watched politics over here for a long time, and they were very energized. We had a lot of people who weren’t active at all.”
New Jersey elected its first two black Republican governors in 2005 and 2009. It also elected its first Hispanic governor, Chris Christie, who was often targeted by liberals for his conservative stance on immigration reform. Christie won reelection in 2013 and was considered the most conservative governor in the country.
Looking to the future, Durr tells me he’s excited by recent polling data that indicates the GOP has a similar level of enthusiasm in New Jersey as it did prior to the presidential election. That sounds great, but if the state’s GOP base can’t mobilize just like it did before the 2016 election, and can’t win over Hispanics and other minorities, the GOP is out of luck in New Jersey and throughout the country.
What’s next? As a self-described lifelong activist, Durr says he wants to keep focusing on making New Jersey a more populist place that benefits all citizens.
That’s good, but there’s an even bigger question at hand. As Ed Durr Jr. retires from his post as party chairman, there will be a question of who will replace him, and who will move into the vacancy at the top of the ticket. Republicans aren’t exactly in the best position to defeat Hillary Clinton in November. Who will be chosen to lead the party against the anti-Trump forces in the Democratic Party?
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Durr seems to be the favorite. Regardless of who replaces him, the state’s top GOP official will be well-positioned for the 2020 gubernatorial race. With Bernie Sanders looking for his own Democratic Party primary, Durr could be the Democrat who makes a splash in a very crowded field.
That’s a career move that New Jersey Republicans should be proud of.
Edward Durr Jr. was born in Newark, New Jersey and he now lives in Asbury Park, New Jersey. He is the founder of Durr, Durr, Cooney and Durr and he serves as advisor to several GOP congressional candidates.