By John Burton |MONMOUTH COUNTY — The one and only definitive takeaway from New Jersey’s June 6 primary election is that the next governor will be from Monmouth County. But what that says about the county, and may mean as it prepares for possible national media attention, really depends on which political watchers you subscribe.Republican Kim Guadagno, the lieutenant governor who lives in Monmouth Beach, has been selected by voters to square off against Democrat Phil Murphy, former Goldman Sachs executive and Middletown resident, who secured his party’s nomination.This year is something of an off-year election with only two governor’s races—New Jersey and Virginia—and no national legislative elections until the 2018 mid-terms. Given that, the pundits of every stripe among the cable-TV chattering class and columnists will likely look to these races as referendums on President Donald Trump (in both races) and certainly on the now nearly eight-year tenure of Republican Gov. Chris Christie (and Guadagno’s boss) for New Jersey, as well as a possible bellwether for the 2018 campaigns.It also will likely have the effect of drawing some additional attention to Monmouth County, possibly finally establishing the county as a force to be reckoned with on the state’s political radar.“Believe me, they’ll be here in droves,” speaking of the national media, “probably after Labor Day, unless somebody wants to go to the Shore,” said Steven Miller, director of Undergraduate Studies in Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University, predicting an “onslaught” of klieg lights. It could mean the likes of Rachel Maddow or Tucker Carlson or other personalities going for the optics of standing on the beach in Monmouth Beach or driving by the home of Murphy’s neighbor Jon Bon Jovi, as the talking heads detail the attractions of the Central Jersey county. “And they’ll be looking to uncover anything and everything,” on the candidates, Miller said.In the 2009 gubernatorial race here, much was made of it as a referendum on President Barack Obama. Obama even made the trip to New Jersey to stump for then-incumbent Governor Jon Corzine, with the president appearing with the governor at a campaign event at the PNC Art Center, Holmdel. Ultimately, the election was more about the unpopularity of Corzine than about the president or even the support of Christie, Miller maintained.“I think it’s likely to bring national attention,” to the state, concurred Lauren Feldman, associate professor of Journalism at Rutgers. “I think we’ve seen a precedent for that,” Feldman explained, pointing to the upcoming special election in the Georgia congressional district, and other recent special elections in Montana and Delaware, as examples of that attention.“I think this election in particular,” that’ll be true, Feldman continued, “because Chris Christie is and was so visibly connected to Trump…That’s going to be the natural hook.”Phil Murphy on the campaign trail in November.What is interesting about having the two major parties hail from this county is an indication that, in the world of politics, “Monmouth County is becoming increasingly more competitive,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.Monmouth County has – and continues to with the occasional exception – elect and re-elect GOP members to countywide office and for its state legislative contingent, though county voter registration continues to show more registered Democrats than Republicans, with independent and unaffiliated voter registration beating either party numbers.Over the last eight years, However, there have been some demographic shifts in diverse populations that benefit Democratic constituencies, in such places as the redeveloping Asbury Park and in Red Bank, and “The shore towns are really the ones that are going to benefit,” and their Democratic candidates, Miller said.“Monmouth County still has a dominant Republican organization,” Dworkin noted. But unlike other areas of the state, like Morris and Ocean counties, where Democrats put up just token opposition to GOP candidates and don’t hold their breath, and conversely, in Hudson and Essex counties where the same is true of Republicans, “The Democrats are making it more competitive,” Dworkin added. Democrats are being better financed, Dworkin observed, and feeling emboldened. “It doesn’t mean they’re always going to win,” Dworkin said, “but everybody has to work now.”That was the case in 2015 when Democrats pulled off a surprising upset by winning the two Assembly seats for the 11th Legislative District.This year’s gubernatorial election is a race that both Dworkin and Miller explained is not overtly about North Jersey versus South Jersey, given the candidates’ home base.It doesn’t put Monmouth County on the map. “Monmouth County has already been on the map,” said Art Gallagher, Highlands resident and Republican political strategist who publishes “More Monmouth Musings, a conservative political blog. That’s been the case since 2009, when Monmouth and Ocean counties were credited with giving Christie his victory, Gallagher maintained. “Monmouth County is now a battleground, politically, it really is,” he observed. As for any additional recognition or benefit, other than “It’s nice bragging rights for Monmouth County,” he said. “I don’t know if it’ll have a political or real-world impact other than perhaps to create traffic jams with more news vans around the homes of Banker Murphy and Lt. Gov. Guadagno.”Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno on primary night.The end result, Gallagher predicted, is that the county will remain decidedly Republican for the two freeholder seats this year, Legislature races and will go for Guadagno because of the GOP’s governance record.On the other hand, Michael Morris, who publishes the “Middletown Mike” liberal/Democratic leaning political blog, not surprisingly, sees it differently. As a reaction to Trump and two terms of Christie, “I think the base is really fired up,” Morris said. “I’m talking extremely fired up.”Activity among grassroots progressive organizations has been strong and that may lead to some upsets, Morris expected. That includes the 13th Legislative District, a traditionally Republican stronghold, which includes Republican-dominated Middletown, the county’s largest municipality, Morris said. “This is the first time in a long time I can actually say that,” he noted. And he’s saying it in part, because Murphy “is telling people around the state that he’s ‘all in for Monmouth County,’” and “do what it takes to win the county,” said Morris, who is a Middletown Democratic committee member.That takes money, time and resources on the ground, Morris said.Attention from the national media depends on a number of factors: What’s going on in the race in Virginia, a more purplish state compared to traditionally Democratic blue New Jersey, Dworkin said. Another factor for these resources, he also pointed out, will be what’s going on in Washington, D.C., over the summer. And as it stands now, he said, “Those resources are focused on the hearings du jour,” in the halls of Congress.This article was first published in the June 15-June 22, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.