Jeff Bell won last night's Republican Senate primary in New Jersey, and will face off against Sen. Cory Booker (D) in the general election. Which begs the question, who is Jeff Bell? He's been out of politics so long that he has an entry on the Web site Political Cemetery. The site helpfully notes that he was "still living as of 1978."
Here are a few other interesting things to note about the candidate, who will likely start the race against Booker far behind in the polls.
1. This election isn't the first Senate primary Bell has won.
In 1978, Bell ran his first political campaign, and managed to beat the Republican incumbent, New Jersey Sen. Clifford Case, who had been in office for 16 years. He eventually lost to the Democratic candidate, former New York Knicks star Bill Bradley. Two years earlier, Bell had written speeches for California Gov. Ronald Reagan during the Republican presidential primaries. Much of Bell's campaign involved preaching the supply-side gospel to New Jersey. Bell also wrote speeches for Richard Nixon during the 1968 presidential campaign. In 1978, Bell told the New York Times, "It was crucial to my political career in a lot of ways because of the contacts I made, but it was also disillusioning." He worked on Rep. Jack Kemp's campaign in the late '80s, and advised Gary Bauer for the brief time he ran for president in 2000.
During the 1980 presidential campaign, Bell helped write some of Reagan's campaign ads. Bell ran for the New Jersey Senate seat again in 1982, and didn't make it out of the primary.
2. Analysis of the 1978 race proves that nothing ever changes.
Narrative about establishment v. conservatives? Check.
To wit, an article from the Washington Post dissecting the race.
Analysis of the 1982 race was somewhat more original.
The grandmother referenced is Rep. Millicent Fenwick, whose name suggests she was born a grandmother. She beat Bell in the primary, but narrowly lost to Frank Lautenberg. Besides beating Bell, her other accomplishments include maybe being the inspiration for Doonesbury character Lacey Davenport, being related to William Tecumseh Sherman's chief of staff and being an editor at Vogue.
3. He has written lots and lots of articles and op-eds about conservative policy.
Bell started contributing to National Review in the 60s, and has written for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Weekly Standard since then. He has published two books, "The Case for Polarized Politics: Why America Needs Social Conservatism and Populism" and "Elitism: Politics in the Age of Equality." If you look at that and think, "Hmm, sounds like a think tank type," you'd be right.
After losing his first Senate election, he briefly served as president of the Manhattan Institute, a policy research center that has attracted many conservative bigwigs -- megadonor Paul Singer is currently chairman of the board. He's been a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy Institute of Politics and the American Enterprise Institute, and a visiting professor at the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers University. He also co-founded the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank.
You may not have heard of Jeff Bell, but you've probably heard other Republicans talk about his policy ideas.
4. While studying at Columbia, he worked as a sports announcer.
During the 1978 election, the New York Times published a profile of Bell that revealed he had once announced a basketball game in which his opponent crushed the home team. "God, he was exciting to watch," Bell said.
Bell revealed that "he does 45 situps and 18 pushups daily and reads an average of two books a week."
5. We're going to hear a lot about Reagan from the Bell campaign in upcoming months.
Politico published a profile of Bell yesterday, which noted that many of his supporters are Reagan nostalgia shippers.
This race is far below the radar of Republican strategists focused on winning control of the Senate. But several elder statesmen from the conservative movement are helping out their old friend. Steve Forbes recorded a robocall that has gone out to more than 200,000 likely voters. Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol has promoted Bell on his magazine’s web site. Recently-retired CNBC host Larry Kudlow headlined a New York fundraiser for him two weeks ago.
“On the one hand, it’s obviously a late middle-age crisis,” said Roger Stone, the longtime GOP operative whose office in Reagan’s 1976 presidential campaign headquarters was next door to Bell’s. “On the other hand, why not?”
First, Bell must emerge from a four-way primary on Tuesday. To do so, he’s trying to capitalize on Reagan nostalgia.
“Jeff Bell worked with Ronald Reagan and helped develop the plan that took the country out of the doldrums,” a narrator says in a 30-second radio commercial that’s been running on Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity’s shows. “Ahead of the time, now it’s his time.”
6. He's a Vietnam veteran.
Bell served as an intelligence advisor during the Vietnam War, which makes him stand out from the people currently serving in the Senate (at 70, he's also much older than most people who aspire to be Senate freshmen).
Here's a graph from a 2013 Pew Research Center study:
7. His 1982 campaign treasurer got in trouble for money laundering and was investigated for election law violations.
Brennan was running penny stock brokerage firm First Jersey Securities when Bell asked him to take charge of his campaign fundraising. The company's employees gave about $100,000 to Bell's campaign, and federal investigators began looking into the donations. Four First Jersey employees were indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice. One of those employees pleaded guilty to charges of illegal campaign contributions.
Bell said he was unaware of the illegal activity, and wasn't alarmed by the large donations coming from First Jersey. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "Bob Brennan was my finance chairman and he has always been good at hitting up people."
In 2001, Brennan was sentenced to nine years in prison after he was convicted of money laundering. Last year, he was working at an exclusive golf course he once owned called Due Process.
8. The National Organization for Marriage and the American Principles Fund spent money supporting Bell during the primary.
The American Principles Fund, which works "to advance an 'integrated conservatism' and break the unilateral truce on social issues within the GOP by demonstrating that social issues are winning issues, especially when combined with an economic message that addresses voters’ most urgent concerns," has spent nearly $80,000 in support of Bell, including a direct mail campaign waged in the last two weeks of the race. They have spent more than $97,000 against Sen. Cory Booker. The National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, spent $6,000 on robocalls in the last week of the primary.