EDISON, N.J. – Former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday weighed in on the race to succeed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, criticizing a new campaign ad from Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno as the “return of Willie Horton” and casting the election as an opportunity to rebuke President Donald Trump.
“What’s going on right now is the new ad I just saw,” Biden told a crowd in Edison while campaigning with Democrat Phil Murphy. “The return of Willie Horton,” he said, referring to an explosive 1988 anti-Michael Dukakis ad.
Horton, a convicted killer, raped a woman while out of prison on a weekend furlough. The 1988 spot was designed to play on fears that Democrats were supposedly soft on crime, but the ad featuring the black felon was widely condemned as racist. Dukakis, a Democrat, went on to lose to Republican George H.W. Bush.
Guadagno’s ad is not the first in the nation’s two gubernatorial races to focus on concerns over illegal immigration and invite comparisons to the Horton spot.
In Virginia, Republican candidate Ed Gillespie aired advertising that included references to the MS-13 gang and suggested his Democratic rival wanted criminals on the streets.
In New Jersey, experts say it’s unclear whether Guadagno’s ad might move voters to her camp. But Monmouth University Polling Institute Director Patrick Murray says it could be a “red-meat” play to the Republican base outside the state, aimed at attracting outside money.
“You take an electorate like New Jersey, it’s a much bigger crime to be far right than to be far left,” Murray said of a state where Democrats have a registration edge of about 800,000.
Guadagno appeared Thursday on the Fox News show “Fox and Friends,” where she condemned policies that limit coordination between local officials and federal immigration-enforcement agents. Murphy said at a debate this week that he would make New Jersey a sanctuary state.
Her campaign unveiled a 30-second TV spot on Wednesday that features the case of Jose Carranza, who was convicted in 2007 in the slayings of three college-bound students in Newark. The Peruvian immigrant was in the country illegally.
The ad features Murphy saying he will have “their back,” referring to immigrants in the country illegally, but leaves out the fact he called the murders “heinous” and said criminals should be prosecuted.
The ad was quickly condemned, including by Democratic Sen. Cory Booker’s office, which called it “disgraceful,” and in an editorial by the state’s biggest newspaper.
In Virginia, Gillespie’s ad said Democrat Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s tie-breaking vote against legislation to bar sanctuary cities in Virginia would let MS-13 gang criminals “back on the street.”
Trump has endorsed Gillespie in a tweet, citing MS-13, but he hasn’t weighed in on the New Jersey race.
Murphy has a lead in polling and more than $5 million in the bank compared with less than $1 million for Guadagno ahead of the Nov. 7 election. The Virginia race is closer, according to polls.
Biden cast the New Jersey race as a referendum on Trump’s policies, including his plan to roll back the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.
“This is the – not hyperbole – the single most important race in America that will be taking place this year,” Biden said, referring to New Jersey. “Because when you elect this man (Murphy) governor you really are gonna have someone who is a national voice.”
Biden is one of several high-profile Democrats Murphy is bringing to the state. Former Secretary of State John Kerry campaigned here on Wednesday and President Barack Obama is slated to come to the state as well.
Obama also is campaigning for Northam in Virginia on Oct. 19.