3:41 p.m. August 13, 2013

Pallone Ranger: Looking For Answers From New Jersey's Most Average Senate Hopeful

Driving down Montclair's Bloomfield Ave., I can't help but cringe at the bright green words on a banner, commanding its viewers to "VOTE FOR PALLONE". It looks bad: the white tarp-like nylon sign is dirtied from months of hanging above a busy street; the green, though effective at getting your attention, leaves me wondering who "PALLONE" is, and why he matters.

As it turns out, a lot of folks from New Jersey are wondering the same thing. We've never heard of Frank Pallone. (We didn't even know Monmouth County was represented in Congress.) 62% of New Jersey residents aren’t voting for Pallone and 63% don’t even know where he stands on “the issues.” Frank Pallone won’t be New Jersey’s next Senator, but to say that to the average New Jerseyan, and to expect them to be disappointed, is to assume they know who he is in the first place.

They do not.

Given how the odds are stacked against him in the Primary, one might assume Pallone is a plucky upstart on bottom of the political food chain. A fresh buck trying to make a difference: a young Ralph Nader or Jill Stein.

In fact, Frank Pallone is just your average politician. And “average” is the important word there. He was elected to the House of Representatives by New Jersey’s 3rd congressional district in 1988 and never looked back. Oddly enough, he doesn’t seem to have looked forward either: When the district was redrawn, he moved to the 6th congressional district, won that election for the House with ease, and has been there since.

Pallone isn’t one to stray outside Party lines. A Democrat, he does exactly what he’s told, and hasn’t made much of a fuss about it. He prides himself on being supportive of Native Americans’ right to stay on their land and maintain their sovereignty as separate states. (To be clear, he’s happy to have Native American’s current landholdings be sovereign, not the land that was taken from them by force. That’s ‘Murica’s to keep.)

A proud member of the [House] Committee on Natural Resources, Pallone quite happily promises to “fight vigorously to protect the water and air”. He was an advocate for the BEACH Act, which protects New Jersey’s beaches (as well as other coastlines) and is so adamant about the water that he’s a member of the Congressional Boat Caucus.

Average, average, average. And so what are we to make of Pallone’s Senate run?

The dirtied sign above Bloomfield Ave. speaks to how tough Pallone’s run for the Party’s Senate nomination has been. Cory Booker has dominated the headlines and raked in money from all sides. Sure, Pallone is doing better than Rep. Rush Holt (although Holt made it on to Colbert!) but it’s still hard to see that Pallone has any skin in the game at all.

I reached out to Ray Zaccaro, the Pallone campaign’s spokesperson. Could I follow them around for a while? Just sit in the background taking notes? Zaccaro’s reply was terse:

“I don’t know what our schedule looks like. At one moment we can have sixteen thousand people here, and the next, zero. I just don’t know.”

He did, however, offer to answer questions by email. I accepted that offer, told him my deadline was this afternoon, thanked him, and hung up to do a bit more research on Pallone.

I wanted to know a few things about the campaign I couldn’t find anywhere else, like why the colors were white and green (Holt’s campaign uses the same colors. Is this a thing?) I also asked how many volunteers the campaign had (I didn’t think it was really 16,000), and what areas of the State they were focusing on (21 counties, 8 field offices. Those numbers seemed off.) Campaign strategy can change overnight: polls dictate strategy and door-to-door flyering helps. I wanted to know how much had been done and how often. (I’ve seen campaigns that viewed knocking on doors as a waste of time and not a single one has ever won an election.)

I sent the questions. As of publication time, I haven’t received a reply.

Given the lack of lawn signs, the lack of name recognition, and lack of mailers I and my neighbors have received, Pallone’s campaign isn’t pulling out all the stops. It’s (maybe) also telling that two days before the campaign was officially over, Zaccaro gave me his personal email address, not the one atop the many press releases the Pallone campaign has posted on their website.

Still keen to talk to someone on the campaign, I figured I would take a short drive to the field office in Parsippany and see what was happening. (Parsippany is the Pallone campaign’s Morris County office. Odd choice, but we’ll get to that later.) The address listed on the site led me to a house that had none of the markings of a field office: No banners, no signs, nothing Pallone-y to speak of.

Had I put the wrong address into my GPS? I checked. Nope. But there is a similar address one town over: Lake Hiawatha.

The office, when I finally found it, looked make-shift. Still, best not to judge too quickly: Many campaign offices are quickly put together. I wandered around – did anyone want to talk about the campaign? They all just directed me to Ray Zaccaro. You win, Ray.

I headed home, taking as many side streets as possible to look out for campaign workers or signs. I wanted to count how many of each I saw.

Grand total? Zero.

Election Day is today, and though I’ll miss out on working the polls, I won’t miss hyper-local New Jersey politics. They can be disappointing, with very little turnout even after a great campaign has run its course. For Frank Pallone, I imagine it will be almost non-existent turnout.

His campaign has struggled with getting out his message, and to me, it seems he’s struggled with what message he’d like to convey.

The glimmer of hope Rep. Pallone does have is the fact that Primary elections in New Jersey never see a high number of voters, particularly when Democrats are running. Perhaps a group of dedicated Pallone-ers will be able to come out and shift the polls in their favor. Perhaps Pallone will have a shot at the New Jersey’s Senate seat come October. Perhaps.

In all likelihood, though, Pallone’s campaign will soon be even more invisible than it is now. Which is to say, entirely so. Offices that were once open will be shut down, and all campaign phones will be handed back in. Ray will use his personal email to field any remaining questions, but the campaign’s website and signs will all be taken down- even that dingy sign hanging above Bloomfield Ave.

I wonder if anyone will ever get to ask Ray why Frank Pallone chose the colors green and white. If I ever hear back from him, I’ll let you know.