Sure, it's the beginning of summer, but ignore the calendar. Political fervor is never far from the hearts and minds of those who care about such things, especially with it being a presidential election year and having a state governor who is in the running for a VP slot on the Republican ticket.
It might be June, but November is bubbling nicely on the back burner.
, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, hasn't set up a presence in New Jersey yet, unless you ignore the campaign stumping has been doing for the former Massachusetts governor for months.
Is Romney setting up campaign headquarters in New Jersey? So far, it's a no-go.
If the Romney team is mulling their campaign HQ options in the Garden State, they should be looking at Woodbridge as their dream spot, say the experts.
After all, another Republican presidential candidate did just that: Gerald Ford in 1976.
" was perfect. That's why we had our headquarters there."
So said Tony Cicatiello, the man who ran the Ford campaign in New Jersey that year.
"Woodbridge is centrally located. You can be anywhere in the state when you had to go. It was an incredibly convenient location for everyone."
Woodbridge as a 'dream spot'
Cicatiello, who now heads his own marketing and public relations firm in Newark, said he had a great time when he was in Woodbridge.
He must have: even though Ford lost the 1976 race, he won New Jersey by 60,000 votes. Cicatiello said his "boss" was so impressed with the job he and his team did that they were invited to the Oval Office to shake hands with Ford.
"We had a great time," Cicatiello recalled, thanking his boss for the honor.
The boss was Dick Cheney, then Ford's White House chief of staff.
"Cheney liked New Jersey. He actually called us the day before election day because things were tight in New Jersey. 'You guys did a great job, but we think you might go down', Cheney said, but then when we won.
"[Ford] president was so impressed that he invited us down to the White House for a visit just before he left office. He wanted to thank us personally," Cicatiello remembered.
But back to Woodbridge.
In those days, Cicatiello, originally from Ohio, had dabbled in political campaigns in his home state. He eventually migrated to Washington, DC, working on his Master's degree while he got a job working for a friend, a food industry lobbyist. That's how Cicatiello got into public policy issues.
"The Washington of the 70s, it was the Nixon and Ford era, tons of Great Society things going on," he said.
Washington wasn't his cup of tea.
Frustration in Washington
"I was getting frustrated with Washington and how it worked. A friend said he had a guy in New Jersey he wanted me to meet, a guy who was running for Congress in 1974. I came up and met Tom Kean. We talked for three hours. I liked him a lot, and he offered me the job to run his campaign," Cicatiello said.
Kean, who would eventually be elected to two terms as governor New Jersey, lost that year's primary to Millicent Fenwick, Even so, both Kean and Cicatiello stayed in touch. Cicatiello moved to Rahway and got a job at Merck. In 1976, Kean was made Ford's national campaign director and he asked Cicatiello to run the New Jersey election effort for the president.
"I was in Rahway, so naturally Woodbridge was a perfect spot" when it came to picking out campaign digs, Cicatiello said.
They chose what was then a new office building, the International Jewelry Building, right next to .
Among his staff of 15 was a field manager, John LeBoutillier, a young Harvard student from Long Island who would be swept up into Congress during Ronald Reagan's successful 1980 election.
Cicatiello and LeBoutillier hit it off, with LeBoutillier camping in Cicatiello's Rahway living room for the duration of the campaign.
"I have nothing of good memories of that area. I loved it," said LeBoutillier, who is now a conservative political pundit, author, and regular on "Campaign Insiders", a Fox News program which airs on Sundays.
"For all the jokes about New Jersey, I felt right at home there."
Part of the campaign staff's job was to set up 'meet and greets' with various Ford family members, politicians, and the like.
'Jersey Loves Jerry!'
Cicatiello remembered a sign that Ford particularly liked during an event in Paramus, one of his three campaign stops in New Jersey.
"It said, 'Jersey Loves Jerry.' He loved it," Cicatiello recalled. "When we were invited to the White House after the campaign, we presented him with the sign."
The White House photographer recorded the event with Ford holding the NJ sign.
LeBoutillier remembered that part of his job was being "roped into an advance man for Bob Dole, Ford's running mate."
Dole was to make an appearance in New Jersey at a race track somewhere near Trenton," LeBoutillier remembered.
"The event was set up by the Washington campaign, Bob and his pretty new wife, Liddy Dole, were going to ride in an open air convertible at the race track. It was a great photo op. Or it would have been, but no one was there."
Dole and his wife were put into the convertible and drove around waving to a miniscule crowd of 500 people.
"It was embarrassing. Dole was so furious, the two advacne men got fired because of it," LeBoutillier laughed.
The New Jersey team had much better luck with Dole at a campaign stop arranged right next door to the campaign headquarters, in Woodbridge Center Mall.
"It was great. About 5,000 people were there, on all the levels of the mall, in the center atrium area," Cicatiello said. "He got a ton of applause. Great event!"
There was always something going and local staff members had to be jack-of-all-trades, said LeBoutillier.
One day he was called upon to drive Tom Ford, the president's brother, to a campaign event. The New Jersey State Republican Chairman Webster Todd - the father of former NJ Gov. Christie Whitman - donated a sedan for the ride.
"I put Tom Ford in the car, I'm driving, and I notice the brakes don't work. We get to a catering hall in north Jersey with no brakes.
"As I'm driving, I'm not so naive as to imagine that a headline saying "President's Brother Killed in NJ by Careless Campaign Worker" is going to go over well. I finally glide us into a parking lot of the catering hall where he's going to speak. I get to a pay phone and say, I need another car, now!" LeBoutillier laughed.
"They gave me another car to finish the day out with. It was a nerve-wracking event!"
To this day both men are astute political observers: for both, Reagan and his 'conservative revolution' and win over the USSR in the Cold War makes him a particularly favorite president.
They like Christie as a possible veep nominee, but can see issues in terms of balancing the Republican ticket, since like Romney, Christie is a Republican in charge of a traditionally Democrat state in the Northeast.
Cicatiello has some advice for the Romney campaign: pick Woodbridge for campaign headquarters.
"It's a great place. The governor couldn't do better," he said.