Joe Piscopo Considers Running for Governor of New Jersey. No Joke.

He found fame in the 1980s impersonating Frank Sinatra, President Ronald Reagan and countless others on “Saturday Night Live,’’ followed by numerous Hollywood gigs, stand-up routines and a drive-time radio show.

So for Joe Piscopo, the weeknight scene at a high-dollar fund-raising gala in the tuxedo-packed Starlight Roof room at the Waldorf Astoria hotel seemed perfect for a little Ol’ Blue Eyes.

But Mr. Piscopo pocketed his “New York, New York” for the night — literally, as he travels with an instrumental version of the song on his iPhone for just such occasions — opting instead to trade a Jersey-centric joke or two with Stephen Baldwin, encourage guests to donate, offer praise to the hosts and scoot offstage.

“I could have rocked that room, I really could have rocked it,” he said. “But then all of the sudden I’m the court jester and the credibility of someone who is representing the people of a state goes away.”

Mr. Piscopo, 65, still managed to draw giggles from the $50,000-a-table crowd at the gala to help bring pandas to New York City. But his self-discipline is part of an effort to project a more sober image as he weighs his next move: trading in his Sinatra for a run for governor of his home state, New Jersey.

“I’m very serious about it,” he said. “I’ve never been more serious about anything in my life.”

While the daily whiplash out of Washington commands almost all the political attention, New Jersey is one of two states that will elect a new governor this year, as the eight-year reign of Gov. Chris Christie, once a national darling and now with historically low approval in his home state, comes to an end. And Mr. Piscopo is hoping to parlay his Jersey credentials and rising political profile — he campaigned for President Trump, and his radio show focuses on conservative politics — into a long-shot bid for governor as either a Republican or an independent in a state where Democratic voters vastly outnumber Republicans.

A recent poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University found that the category of “someone else” was within the margin of sampling error of equaling Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, the current leading Republican. Mr. Piscopo, who has not made an official announcement, trailed Ms. Guadagno and “someone else.”

“Joe Piscopo obviously goes into this with a whole lot of name recognition,” said Ashley Koning, the director at the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers. “Whether that turns into actual approval and support among New Jersey residents and New Jersey voters, that’s another story, but I think there’s a lot of ground that every candidate has to cover.”

For the moment, the seriousness of Mr. Piscopo’s potential run remains shrouded in a statewide listening tour of sorts — meetings with union leaders, industry experts and elected officials, sprinkled with the occasional keynote at Republican county dinners or cable news appearances. If he decides to jump into the Republican primary, he has an April 3 filing deadline.

Mr. Piscopo’s initial support stems mostly from his television celebrity, which could qualify him as a household name, as long as the household is in New Jersey.

He has spent nearly his entire life in the state — in 2005 The New York Times called him “so Jersey, he deserves his own rest area” — having taken thousands of trips up and down the Turnpike for work, to visit his mother and to be with his five children (he has been married twice).

“I got so many kids, my joke is, in Jersey, I have a child at every exit,” he said in a phone interview after visiting his mother, who made sure he left with a batch of broccoli rabe. “So it’s like, jeez, I got to make sure I can afford to do this.”

For potential donors, Mr. Piscopo can turn to a growing circle of political connections, most made through his radio show, and his fans. It was John Catsimatidis, the New York billionaire and former mayoral candidate, who invited Mr. Piscopo to the Waldorf gala, both to have a famous face in the room and to help Mr. Piscopo meet people.

“I told him I would support him, personally, probably to the maximum,” said Mr. Catsimatidis, noting that he wakes up every day at “seven minutes after 6” to listen to Mr. Piscopo. “I’d probably have a fund-raiser for him, getting all my friends to try and support him, things like that.”

During the gala, Mr. Piscopo, in between an awkward mix of selfies and autographs, was stopped by Eric Anton, a “workout buddy from ages ago.” After a handshake and some small talk about workout routines, Mr. Anton left, saying, “I hope ya run. I’ll raise money for you.”

Mr. Piscopo has not done any of his own polling or started putting together a campaign staff. The bedrock of his policy centers largely on ideas to “bring back jobs,” a phrase familiar to anyone paying attention to the 2016 campaign.

Mr. Piscopo has formed the skeleton of a platform: a focus on increasing manufacturing for distressed communities; resuscitating the state’s once-booming pharmaceutical industry; a property tax cap; using public-private partnerships to rebuild the state’s infrastructure; eliminating the state income tax for teachers, firefighters and the police; and, with his show business roots, working to “make Atlantic City the film capital of the Northeast.”

“We’re trying to put a package together that we’ll probably have within the month,” he said.

Despite a relatively conservative platform, Mr. Piscopo is very pro-union. During a dinner of steak tartare and pizze at Vaucluse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Mr. Piscopo listened to pitches from two businessmen, Richard Patton, a senior vice president at Aon Risk Solutions, and David Galardi, a vice president at Apogenics, a health care adviser, who talked about partnerships with China on infrastructure and promoting generic drug production in New Jersey. Mr. Piscopo interjected only to demand, “Got to be union in New Jersey.”

While he doesn’t have official advisers, he has been getting counsel from Mark Serrano, a veteran political operative and friend whom he met in the green room at Fox News. Mr. Serrano said his recommendations had focused on the semantics of campaigning and not style.

Mr. Piscopo’s manner is perhaps not that of a traditional would-be candidate, but that is precisely what could help him. “I think that’s what provides him potential in a statewide race like the governor’s race this year,” Mr. Serrano said.

Mr. Piscopo pointed to Mr. Trump’s victory as upending the notion of a candidate needing political experience. It was on the Trump campaign trail that Mr. Piscopo started to seriously consider running, saying he received encouragement from Reince Priebus, then chairman of the Republican Party and now Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, and from the former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

He is also courting the Trump support network. Mr. Piscopo has appeared on “The Alex Jones Show,” a conservative, conspiracy-laden radio program, to discuss a possible run, displaying notes of Trumpian bluster, though delivered with less anger — he declared the Internal Revenue Service a “criminal organization” and mocked Hillary Clinton’s coughing. Mr. Piscopo dialed in to the show from the living room of Roger Stone, a Trump confidant and Republican operative.

If nothing else, a run by Mr. Piscopo could provide a jolt of energy and national media attention to what has become a sprawling but relatively unknown field of candidates, a fact not lost on a man familiar with both the highs and lows of celebrity life.

“Brother, my life, the one thing is this: If you want an interesting race in New Jersey, I better go in, because I got more baggage,” Mr. Piscopo said with a laugh, before interrupting himself and acting out a mock news conference.

“‘Mr. Piscopo, you ran off with the babysitter?’” he said, playing the role of a reporter.

“‘Yes, I did. Have you seen her? You would have ran off with her, too. Next question.’ Boom! I’m not going to worry about it.”

He is also ready to to break out Ol’ Blue Eyes for the right moment.

“I’ll tell ya, if I do win,” he said, laughing as he dropped his voice half an octave to match Mr. Sinatra’s, “I will be the one singing ‘My Way,’ at the inauguration.”

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