Former U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie should win the primary tomorrow by a double-digit margin and will not have a hard time healing the Republican divide, according to four New Jersey political experts.
Montclair State Political Science Professor Brigid Harrison predicts that Christie will beat rival Steven Lonegan, the former Mayor of Bogota, by a margin of 12-15%, depending, of course, on turnout.
Patrick Murray, a pollster and political science professor at Monmouth University, gives Christie a likely win by a margin of 18% — 58% to 40% — assuming that about 300,000 voters show up to the polls. A higher turnout, he said, will boost Christie’s margin of victory to 22%, while a lower one will narrow it to about 13%. He put Assemblyman Rick Merkt’s (R-Mendham) likely showing at about 2%.
Ingrid Reed, who directs the Eagleton Institute’s New Jersey Project, thinks that Christie will likely win with a margin “well over 10%.” But another win for Christie would be a large turnout, said Reed, because it “would signal there is momentum for the party and that the organization was organized and active.”
Seton Hall Political Science Professor Joseph Marbach calls a 19% victory for Christie – 58% to 39% — with a Republican voter turnout of about 30%, which works out to about 300,000 based on the latest available party registration statistics (whether there will be a drop off in registered Republicans since last year’s presidential election remains to be seen).
All three Republican candidates have said that they will throw their support to the winner of the primary, although there has not been much love lost between the Christie and Lonegan camps in what has been a hard fought battle.
Murray’s own polling confirms this, having not shown much potential for a serious post-primary GOP split in New Jersey.
“Yes, some on the losing side will be ticked off, but not any more than usual – although if Christie loses, his supporters will need some help to get over the shock. In other words, support for the party’s nominee in the general election should be at typical levels,” he said.
The typical percentage of Republican primary voters who sit out the general is about 5%, said Murray, while another 5-8% of self-identified Republicans will vote for someone other than the Republican candidate in the general.
Harrison noted that the Lonegan/Christie fight here in New Jersey mirrors the national party’s debate between ideological purity and pragmatic moderation. Nevertheless, she does not anticipate that the winner will risk losing votes from the loser’s camp.
“I don’t think the state Republican Party will have difficulty uniting on Wednesday and beyond behind the party’s nominee. Tomorrow night and on Wednesday, we’ll hear the standard speeches about the need to get behind the Republican nominee, and that he has the support of his once-opponent,” she said.
But some damage may have been done to the winner’s campaign by being forced to run attack ads against primary opponents instead of using that money to define himself with an eye towards the general election, Harrison said.
With Gov. Corzine running against three virtually unfunded and unknown candidates, the size of his victory margin could have significant implications for the general election.
Corzine’s only opponent with any experience in elected office is former Glen Ridge Mayor Carl Bergmanson. The other two men are running more eccentric candidacies, and both recently ran for federal office. Roger Bacon, a mechanic from Phillipsburg who at least recently designed custom coffee mugs, ran against Dennis Schulman for the Democratic congressional nomination in the 5th District. Jeff Boss, who claims to have witnessed the National Security Agency plan the 9/11 attacks, managed to get on the ballot last year to simultaneously run for U.S. senate and president.
A relatively weak victory would be not only embarrassing to an incumbent governor, but could also point toward a weak base and thus a serious vulnerability in November. Experts differed on what percentage Corzine needs to win by to avoid that perception.
Harrison thinks that Corzine is fine as long as he wins with 60% of the vote – a number that should not be hard to achieve.
“I don’t think that there’s a huge risk of this, particularly since the protest vote will be divided among the three challengers. I think most voters recognize that Gov. Corzine’s approval ratings are low but that he does not have significant primary opposition, so many of his supporters will stay home,” she said. “I think if he were to dip below say 60%, he may have some explaining to do.”
Murray said that the typical number an incumbent Governor with nominal opposition could expect in primaries is around 85%. But since there are three long shot opponents and the economy is rotten, Corzine could make due with 75%. If Corzine wins with less than 70%, he’s in trouble.
“It’ll be interesting to see how many write-in votes Dick Codey gets,” Murray told PolitickerNJ.com.
Reed said that Corzine should expect to win with about 85% of the vote as well.
“He also needs to have the number of Democrats going to the polls coming in closer to 300,000 than 200,000 (he got 207,000 votes in ’05) to give him lift for the general election,” she said.
Marbach said that anything south of 80% for Corzine will indicate trouble with his base.
Both Reed and Murray pointed to the special election for state senate in the 23rd District as the main legislative race to watch tomorrow. Assemblyman Mike Doherty (R-Washington Twp.) is challenging state Sen. Marcia Karrow (R-Raritan) for the seat that used to belong to U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton).
Although Karrow beat Doherty in the special convention process to succeed Lance, the primary voters are a much different electorate.
Reed said that it will be interesting to see whether a Karrow mailer that slammed Doherty for supporting U.S. Rep. Ron Paul’s (R-Tex.) Iraq policies – a piece that was decried by Doherty and Lonegan supporters because Doherty, a veteran, has three sons who are either serving or have serviced in Iraq — would backfire.
Reed did not offer a prediction on the race, but Murray called it for Doherty, and partly because of the backlash from the mailer.
“When attacks like these are seen as false by the voters, they usually backfire on the accuser,” he wrote in a blog entry on the race.
Murray also noted that Doherty has outperformed Karrow in the primary three times – including once when they were the only two on the ballot – and is aligned with Lonegan in a region where the more conservative candidate is expected to do well.
There’s also a down-ballot assembly race in that district, with Doherty-aligned Ed Smith (his assembly chief of staff), is running for assembly against the establishment team of Warren County Freeholder John DiMaio and Hunterdon County Freeholder Erik Peterson.