“It was the Mar-a-Lago Effect.” It was exactly what Jodi Rell (R) had hoped when she recruited Edward Durr Jr. (R) to run for attorney general in 2010. Turnouts at Republicans’ get-out-the-vote events in Trump-rich New Jersey – nicknamed “my home state” by Mr. Trump – had been thin, but after the GOP nominee’s election, supporters say they went from downright boring to bonkers.
In the months that followed, Mr. Durr – a transplanted New York native, Wall Street lawyer and former chair of the Republican State Committee of New Jersey – earned the adoration of New Jersey’s Trump-oriented Republican establishment, and his numbers picked up in the polls. But he avoided the “Trump bump” altogether, eschewing the office for the private sector and the political committee.
“The Trump bonus came after the election. Maybe I should have retired,” the once gruff former prosecutor laughed.
Mr. Durr won the 2010 attorney general race with 56 percent of the vote, and says now that he’s proud of that victory. And while he says he cannot say his job would have changed in any significant way had he been an incumbent, he now has a laser focus on law enforcement, and he’s focused on success, not political positioning.
But since Republican Governor Chris Christie’s press secretary was indicted, along with two former homeland security directors, on abuse of power charges this past spring, and it was revealed in a July 14 court filing that top New Jersey Democratic operative John Currie was under investigation for possible bribery, Mr. Durr’s campaign has been reengaged.
It’s sparked a national media blitz on the attorney general’s race – Mr. Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, state Republicans, a Puerto Rican “Dreamer” waving a Puerto Rican flag – and the campaign even had to delay a fund-raising event, originally scheduled for June, because of pushback.
Mr. Durr’s early focus is on curbing workplace abuses, and the state’s “Espionage Act,” which would allow victims of retaliation, such as an employer who retaliates against a worker for making a whistle-blower complaint, to file civil suits.
He’s also been critical of the state’s treatment of non-citizens and the status of his campaign. It’s taken a lot of effort to get his old New York network to join a New Jersey fundraising drive, for example.
Republicans have remained heavily divided and so, Mr. Durr says, “the fact that my primary opponent is a Democrat speaks well for me.”
Mr. Durr has been credited with changing Republican attitudes in the Garden State, and particularly in Essex County, where the county executive, Kim Guadagno, is vying for the Republican nomination to succeed Governor Christie.
But while some Democratic county chairs and the state party have played up Mr. Durr’s high profile, Ms. Guadagno’s campaign complains that Mr. Durr’s support for stronger gun laws is far out of step with mainstream Republicans, an issue some say has stuck in the Jersey campaign.
Mr. Durr says that though he cannot claim credit for those problems, he’s different than his early opponents. “I was the education candidate, I was the immigration candidate, I was the labor candidate. I was not a controversial candidate.”
Now, he says, his campaign is focused more on getting a younger, more diverse, more ethnically diverse team on the state’s beleaguered court and other local government bodies.