Daggett considers gubernatorial run success despite results
BASKING RIDGE — As a nail-biter of an election chattered into last night, one thing was clear: Christopher J. Daggett had become one of the most successful Independent candidates in recent New Jersey history.
At the Dolce Hotel in Basking Ridge, the town he calls home, Daggett addressed the gathered supporters and reporters.
"We don't know who won this election, but it's not us," said Daggett, who garnered 5.5 percent of the vote, according to election results.
He said his supporters should unite behind whoever wins the election due to the significant issues facing the state.
Daggett said the race gave conclusive proof that the two-part system is broken.
"Government is not the problem," Daggett said. "Our two-party system is what the problem is. Government needs independent thinking people — people not aligned with political parties or beholden to special interest."
Daggett said New Jersey citizens should be ashamed by the tone of the campaign and should work day and night to stop such behavior.
New Jersey learned Republicans and Democrats will do anything to win an election throughout the course of the campaign, Daggett said.
He expressed disgust with the corrosive nature of the campaign.
"If you look at tonight — low voter turnout — people were disgusted with the charges, allegations and negative campaigning," Daggett said. "We're all losers tonight."
Nonsense about traffic records, robocalls and whether he was a Democratic plant leads to disinterest in politics, he said.
"Pointless politics and campaigns that have no substance are not what democracy is all about in the books that I read, everything I've learned as a kid and an adult," Daggett said. "There was no conspiracy between me and [Gov.] Jon [S.] Corzine."
Daggett said those who campaigned for him stood tall for the belief that there was nothing wrong with voting for the right person.
He campaigned on promises to lower property taxes while increasing sales taxes, cut the size and cost of government at all levels, protect the state's environment, fund open space preservation and develop an offshore wind industry.
Citizens need to find a way to end negative campaigning, he said.
Daggett lauded the efforts of his campaign during his speech, thanking The Star-Ledger and the New Jersey Sierra Club for their unexpected endorsements.
"Collectively it was the mouse that roared," Daggett said. "I think New Jersey ought be thankful for them."
During the summer, Daggett's showing in the polls jumped. His performance in the gubernatorial race built upon the momentum. The support dropped off for the election but those gathered in Basking Ridge believed he still had an impact.
New Jersey Sierra Club Political Chair Richard Isaac said Daggett's campaign made the two major party candidates sweat it out in the final months. His substantial issues-based campaign exposed how vague the other two candidates' promises are, Isaac said.
"Chris Daggett has a very strong record of real accomplishments," Isaac said.
Independent Lieutenant Governor Candidate Frank Esposito said Daggett was the one candidate who addressed issues, including slashing property taxes and restoring support to higher education.
"This race has really heavily been between the two major parties a mudslinging contest," said Esposito, a University alumnus. "They've not focused on any issues."
He dismissed the notion that a vote for Daggett was wasted.
"We feel that in a democracy, people should make a choice and the choice should be based on the best sense of who can do the job," Esposito said. "Unfortunately, the two major parties, feeling threatened by us because we were a popular movement, began to throw out to the public that it's a throwaway vote. It's absolute rubbish."
He said support for an Independent candidate in New Jersey might indicate a broader trend.
"In New Jersey, an increasing number of people are coming to the realization that the two major parties are not addressing the needs of [the state]," Esposito said.
Thirty-one-year-old Sophia Pelton, a Clinton resident, volunteered for the Daggett campaign.
"I think that Daggett has given New Jersey residents a third option and an option with a plan — the only valid plan that's been offered by any of the candidates."
She said if Daggett could finish the race with 10 percent of the vote, it would send out a message that New Jersey is tired of politics as usual and looking for a third choice.
Clinton resident Ryan Pelton said he wasn't sure if Daggett had added substance to the campaign.
"A lot of people are just party-oriented. I don't think [Daggett is] going to get a lot of votes," Ryan Pelton said. "If it is at least 5 percent, it should send a message that there are voters out there who are unhappy with either choice."
Libertarian Murray Sabrin, a University alumnus, collected 5 percent of the vote in 1997, setting the previous high water mark for third-party gubernatorial candidates in the state, campaign expert David Redlawsk said.
The last time a donkey or an elephant occupied the governor's office was in 1848, when Whig Charles Creighton Stratton, a University alumnus, left office. The Republican Party didn't exist until 1854, Redlawsk said.
Livingston College senior Robert Cacioppo volunteered for the campaign and came out to Basking Ridge in support of Daggett.
"Voters need to demand more out of their politicians than just vote for the least worst," Cacioppo said. "We call ourselves a beacon of democracy and every election there's just one more choice than there is under tyranny. What's the point of democracy? To vote for who you think is the best candidate — not for who you think is going to win. [That] shouldn't matter."
— Dan Bracaglia contributed to this article