Mild trepidation turned to jubilance tonight at the Skylark Diner in Edison, where Hillary Clinton’s most high profile New Jersey supporters turned out to watch her win the New Jersey primary.
Edison was a virtual who’s who of New Jersey’s Democratic establishment, with Gov. Corzine and almost half of the Democratic congressional delegation in attendance along with several dozen other political insiders and a few rank-and-file Clinton supporters. And if there was one phrase that would characterize the attitude of those present when exit polls showed Obama beating Clinton, it was “Remember New Hampshire.”
“I really don’t put a lot of faith in the exit polls one way or the other. New Hampshire I think showed everybody,” said Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts. “Primaries are extraordinarily tough to poll – you have such a fluid electorate and samples are tough to make accurate.”
Minutes before cable news networks started calling the race for Clinton, Gov. Corzine chatted with the press about how close he expected the race to be – saying he figured it would turn out 52-48% either way, with a roughly equal division of delegates. He also made special note of Clinton’s victory in Massachusetts despite Sen. Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama.
“First of all, I’m extremely enthusiastic about the fact that we had over 800,000 voters in the Democratic primary,” he said. “I think that’s the story of the night.”
Later on, Democratic State Chairman Joe Cryan said that the number was actually closer to one million.
Corzine wasn’t so hot on Senate President Dick Codey’s call for the state’s 20 super delegates to be assigned proportionally based on how the vote came out. (Codey endorsed Obama after his first choice, John Edwards, dropped out of the race).
“That in my view would be changing the rules after the fact. I’m sure we’ll have a lot of debates about where Florida go, Michigan go, and a lot of other things too,” said Corzine.
There will be a lot of challenges to the process, but I think you’ve got to play by the rules in the process.”
Even after Fox News became the first cable network to call the race for Clinton, Corzine was hesitant to celebrate, saying that he trusted Fox News about as much as the exit poll he read on his way that showed Obama winning the state.
“I have learned from my own experience and a lot of close calls that exit polls are pretty off the mark frequently enough to say let’s wait and see the results,” he said.
But once the restaurant’s televisions were switched to Fox, a roar of applause went up, and Corzine slapped the hand of Bonnie Watson Coleman.
Representative Albio Sires didn’t fret either – before the winner was declared, he flashed some partial numbers from the 31st and 32nd legislative districts that showed Clinton beating Obama by large margins. His prediction from Saturday that Clinton would carry 80% of the Latino vote, he said, looked like it was probably accurate.
“I feel very good. We got our message across. People listened to our message,” said Sires. “And I think it bodes very well for November.”
Representative Rob Andrews said that, while he puts some stock in exit polls, he doesn’t trust one for a primary as unprecedented as this one.”
“As President John Kerry can tell you, you’ve got to start counting real votes,” he said.
And once the votes were counted, the assembled politicians could safely say that they knew it all along.
An elated Rep. Frank Pallone said that he never really feared that New Jersey was in play, if only by dint of being across the river from Clinton and having her represent many of the state’s concerns in the Senate.
Pallone also gave credit to state’s political establishment for pushing Clinton through the primary.
“Absolutely, I think the Governor’s support, Sen. Menendez’s support – having most of the congressional delegation on her side was certainly helpful,” he said.
Of those present, the most confident that the exit polls showing Obama winning were wrong was Cryan. But Cryan said he was even more thrilled that so many new voters became Democrats to participate in todays primary, and that the biggest upcoming challenge would be to keep them there.
“I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s a god damn good day to be state chairman,” he said.