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McGreevey rally in Cape shows southern N.J. Democrats focused

July 23, 2001

CAPE MAY POINT — James McGreevey marched into Cape May Point State Park here Sunday, surrounded by flag- and sign-waving backers chanting “Go, Jim, Go.”

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate already had come a long way: more than 300 miles as part of his 22-day biking and walking “Jersey Journey” tour of the state.

The trek ended at the park with a rally attended by about 500 Democratic candidates, elected officials and supporters from throughout the state. They made it clear that, from their standpoint, New Jersey’s political future is clearly Democratic.

With only about 16 weeks until Election Day, Democrats pledged to make an imprint on government on all levels, and not just in New Jersey.

McGreevey urged those in the crowd to help him defeat Republican Bret Schundler and also to return control of the Legislature to Democrats.

Party members said they look forward to finally giving Democrats control of the perennially Republican-held Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders and making Freeholder Jeff Van Drew its director.

They acknowledged that both Republicans and Democrats throughout the country are paying close attention to New Jersey’s elections. They believe the results could be an indication of how future elections in other states will fare.

“This is the election that the whole nation is watching,” the state’s Democratic leader, Assemblyman Joseph Roberts, D-Camden, said.

Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., said it has been a very long time since New Jersey voters were faced with a candidate as conservative as Schundler.

A McGreevey victory in a state where the electorate is considered middle-of-the-road would signal acceptance of a centrist-leaning Democratic Party over an increasingly conservative GOP.

But Sunday clearly belonged to McGreevey.

Campaign signs lined Sunset Boulevard to direct Democrats to the rally.

One sign was even posted in front of Cape May County Republican leader David Von Savage’s home.

Discarding a microphone that didn’t work, and ignoring people who kept telling him he was in Cape May Point and not, as he kept saying, Cape May, McGreevey said the biking and walking tour was the “greatest experience of my life.”

“The one thing I’m hearing is that (New Jersey residents) want a governor who is going to stand up for working families,” McGreevey said. “It’s about us. It’s about our families.

“We want to change the way Trenton does business. We want to squeeze out those special interest groups.

“It our chance to take back Trenton,” he said.

Sunday’s event clearly was upbeat: Participants sipped lemonade and snacked on ice cream and potato chips. Members of various labor unions — labor is firmly behind McGreevey — proudly showed off shirts emblazoned with the emblem of the locals.

Some of the more popular hand-drawn signs read “McGreevey is McGroovey” and “Jersey City 4 Jim.” Schundler was mayor of Jersey City.

Sunday’s event also showcased legislative candidates, including William Hughes Jr., who is running against veteran state Sen. James Cafiero, R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic.

“We’re going to bring new leadership and ideas for New Jersey,” Hughes told the crowd. “Our candidacy is about standing up for South Jersey, and bringing South Jersey into its own.”

Increasing political clout in southern New Jersey has been a growing issue for both Democrats and Republicans, as the region has several legislative races that could help determine which party controls state government.

Both parties have pledged to sink more resources than usual into the region. Many southern New Jersey Democrats said Sunday it has been a long time since there’s been this much political excitement in the region.

“It’s nice to be a player again,” said former Cape May County Democratic leader Robert Taylor, who is now coordinating the McGreevey campaign in that county.

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