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Grapevine: Piscopo takes confusing step

After the 2016 presidential election rewrote the books on what can or cannot happen in politics, no one in New Jersey seemed keen on completely disregarding comedian Joe Piscopo's growing interest in running for governor.

A supporter of President Donald Trump’s unconventional and improbable 2016 campaign, there is some logic behind the former “Saturday Night Live” star’s populist message resonating at the state level, as well.

“What other Republican in New Jersey has a higher name ID, ability to raise money, generate free national media and has zero connections to the unpopular (Gov. Chris) Christie administration?” one source recently questioned.

So, in the early weeks of 2017, it was understandable to think that Piscopo was seriously considering running against the other two Republicans in the race, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-Somerville) and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, widely considered to be the favorite.

But with March creeping up on April, Piscopo is not only still on the fence, but has actually made his potential candidacy all that more confusing and mysterious. Days after announcing last week that he would not run for governor as a Republican, he said he is seriously prepping for a bid as an independent.

A number of sources say that if Piscopo is actually serious about winning, running as an independent in New Jersey isn’t just a tough way to go about it, it’s also a nonstarter.

And you don’t have to go too far back to understand why. In 2009, former state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Chris Daggett ran as an independent and even gained the endorsement of The Star-Ledger.

The end result? Daggett took home just over 5 percent of the vote, coming in a very distant third in the tight race that ultimately saw Christie unseat former Gov. Jon Corzine.

One source noted that, in a post-Trump world, there are plenty of qualities that voters might appreciate about a candidate like Piscopo. He should use that to his advantage and see if his name could be strong as a potential lieutenant governor to someone like Guadagno, the source added.

Guadagno hits by missing

Speaking of Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, her campaign continues to outpace that of Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-Somerville) and, save for a late entry by Joe Piscopo or another dark horse candidate, she appears likely to enjoy frontrunner status through the rest of the primary season.

But observers continue to point out that Guadagno currently seems to be more fixated on beating Christie, whom she has served under as lieutenant governor since 2010, than former U.S. Ambassador Phil Murphy, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) or any other Democrat that might emerge in a statewide race.

Late last week, her campaign put out a web ad featuring Guadagno standing outside of the State House asking voters to join her in standing up against Christie’s plan to fund a $300 million renovation of the building.

“The Trenton politicians want to spend $300 million to renovate the building that’s right behind me right now,” Guadagno says in the ad. “Really?”

By “Trenton politicians,” Guadagno means Christie, even if she doesn’t mention him by name throughout the course of the ad.

And it’s not the first time she’s done it, either. In her campaign launch speech, she also took shots at Christie without calling him out by name, saying that, “We simply do not have the money to turn the State House into the Palace of Versailles.”

One source said that, while he understands it is still primary season and there is a widespread belief that any Republican will have to go above and beyond to disassociate himself or herself from the unpopular Christie administration, not using her clear frontrunner status to begin focusing on Murphy or another Democrat is a waste of time.

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