Conservative Republican Steve Lonegan said Monday the government shutdown crushed his chance of winning New Jersey’s Senate seat — and made him the "biggest casualty" of a GOP shutdown strategy of "no message and no game plan."
"There is no doubt in my mind or in the minds of any of my campaign staff that the shutdown cost me the election," Lonegan told nj.com
. "If I had known it was going to happen and that it was going to be handled so badly in Washington, I wouldn't have run for Senate."
The writing was on the wall by the fifth day of the 16-day shutdown, he said.
"It became palpable that the shutdown was going to kill us," he said — adding, however, that he supported the shutdown and the faction of the party that pushed for it.
"I had no choice," he said. "You either have to attack your party or be a team player. I was a team player."
"Republicans had a chance to win a U.S. Senate seat and in the process, send a powerful message to Obama, and instead, they shut down government with no message and no game plan," he said.
"I was probably the single biggest casualty of their mistake."
Lonegan said he thought he was gaining momentum in his uphill battle against Democrat Cory Booker, who won the special election last Wednesday to fill the Senate seat of the late Democrat Frank Lautenberg.
Before Oct. 1 — the first day of the shutdown — polls showed him making up ground on what was thought to be Booker's insurmountable 35-point lead.
A Sept. 24 Quinnipiac poll put Lonegan 12 points behind, and a Sept. 30 Monmouth University poll
showed him down by 13.
"Our polls showed us gaining fast," he said. "We'd see one that had us two or three down one night or one that had us up. By Oct. 1, when [Texas Gov.] Rick Perry came to town, our momentum was enormous."
He said his strategy was straightforward: gain national attention, close within 10 points in polling, and then spend the final two weeks of the race pounding away on Obamacare.
But the shutdown changed that, making the debate about the shutdown rather than the Affordable Care Act.
"The Republicans in Washington fumbled it terribly, and it became all about the shutdown and the debacle of Obamacare's launch was lost," he said.
Lonegan said Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham's attack on the tea party "drove a stake into our heart."
"That's the first time we started to see the momentum move against us," he said. "They both should be primaried for what they did."
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