President Reagan is off and running for election in New Jersey again. In that state's gubernatorial primary elections May 2, voters elected a Republican and a Democrat each of whom is expected to make the Reagan administration's economic philosophy and political policy the center- piece of his own campaign.
In a field of 13 Democrats and eight Republicans, US Rep. James J. Florio, captured the Democratic nomination and Thomas H. Kean, billed in the primary as the "Reagan candidate," won the Republican nod.
Representative Florio set the tone for this duel when he proclaimed to hundreds of supporters after his victory: "Democrats must keep their commitment to workers' safety, a good environment, and harmony in society." He added: "We must keep our commitment to social security. The people will remember who tried to walk away from social security."
Mr. Kean, a wealthy Princeton graduate and former 10-year state assemblyman, echoed Reagan's views when he told supporters after his victory: "To those of you considering leaving New Jersey, there is hope. Wait. We are proposing new programs which will cope with crime, rising taxes, and rampant inflation. Enough is enough."
Veteran observers of New Jersey political affairs say both men will make an effort to present themselves as moderates -- as Reagan himself had to do in his presidential bid. But Florio may have a tougher time of it, even though he so far is the only Democratic congressmen to be endorsed by the National Rifle Association.
Explained NRA spokeswoman Ellen Seary: "He doesn't want any kind of restructions [on handguns] . . . so, of course, we went ahead and endorsed him."
But Florio also is widely perceived as a proponent of big government -- a holdover from the days when even Republicans in Washington were not known for cost-cutting.
Kean is expected to try to capitalize on this directly and vis-a-vis his support of Reagan's economic recovery program, which has the advantage in this gubernatorial election of at least not yet being tested.
"The public still seems to be enamored of Ronald Reagan," says New Jersey GOP Assemblyman Charles Hardwicke. He added that with only four months before the general election, there won't be enough time for the President's policies to fail.
Reagan promised he would campaign for the winner of the Republican primary. US Rep. Jack Kemp (R) of New York campaigned for Kean in the primary. Kean supports the Reagan tax-cut program and wants more sharp cuts at the state level.
Kean, ironically, once was considered relatively liberal for a Republican. When he was state campaign chairman for former President Ford in 1976, he said Reagan's nomination would be a "disaster" for the GOP.
Florio enhanced his personal stature by fighting political corruption in southern New Jersey. He also rebuffed FBI attempts to lure him into its Abscam investigation.