With one day left in the campaign, it is clear that Chris Christie has major momentum. The election outcome will be determined by turnout. In this regard, the key question will be: How effective is each candidate’s GOTV (Get-Out-the-Vote)?
In 1997, New Jersey Republicans had their most effective GOTV in modern history. Led by the then New Jersey GOP chair Chuck Haytaian and Executive Director Rocco Iossa, the GOTV effort was the key factor in enabling Christie Whitman to eke out a victory over Jim McGreevey. It was the Republican GOTV effort that offset McGreevey’s improved performance over the Florio 1993 margins in Essex and Middlesex Counties. McGreevey himself attributed the Republican GOTV effort as the key factor in his loss.
Before I discuss the importance of GOTV, it is important to note the reason for the Christie surge: As shown by today’s Quinnipiac Poll results, Christie has narrowed Corzine’s margin among women from 20 points on October 28 to 7 points this morning.
I attribute this change to one reason: Women are now thinking more about their property taxes than their mammogram insurance coverage, which is clearly not threatened by Chris Christie, in spite of Corzine’s misleading negative commercials on the subject.
In my view this change is due to some very wise moves last week by the same Christie political “brain trust” I have criticized throughout the campaign. All my previous criticisms remain in effect. There were, however, two politically sagacious actions of the Christie political team that clearly have had a major impact in reducing the gender gap in the Quinnipiac Poll from 32 to 18 points in the short time period from October 28 until November 2.
First, at long last, Christie’s commercials and mail have focussed on New Jersey’s high property taxes. My view is that the campaign should have done this a long time ago, but better late than never.
Second, the saturnine Christie who appeared at his worst in the televised NJN debate has been replaced by the smiling, loving husband and father we see in the commercials this past week. The commercials are effective because Chris Christie is genuinely a dedicated family man. The smiling, warm Christie is much more appealing to women voters than the grim, frowning Christie who looks like he is about to go into the ring to fight Sonny Liston.
There was another wise move on the part of the Christie campaign last week. They enlisted the assistance of Steve Lonegan, who is campaigning vigorously now for the Republican nominee. The Christie campaign was losing conservative voters, due to foolish moves on the part of the candidate and the campaign, most notably his self-association with Barack Obama. Now, with Lonegan campaigning for Christie and making robo-calls on his behalf, conservative Republicans are home with Christie to stay.
So who will win tomorrow? Both the Monmouth University/Gannett Poll and the Quinnipiac Poll show the race to be within the margin of error: Christie is up by one point in the Monmouth/Gannett Poll and by two points in the Quinnipiac Poll. The trend is with Christie. Daggett is declining, and there remains the question of how much of his remaining vote will defect to each candidate.
Above all, however, this race will be decided by turnout. Here, the Democrats do have an advantage statewide in terms of organizational infrastructure. The question is whether the Democrat GOTV apparatus will succeed in bringing to the polls a sufficient number of that category of urban voters necessary for Corzine to achieve victory, to wit: men and women, particularly the young, who registered for the first time in 2008 in order to vote for Barack Obama. Many of these voters are lukewarm towards the incumbent Governor.
The Christie campaign faces a GOTV problem, which in all fairness is not of their making. As a result of the deterioration of the GOP statewide infrastructure and county organizations that has been ongoing since the Democrats took over the Governorship in January, 2002, the Christie campaign must rely on those remaining few effective county organizations to get out their vote in “base” Republican areas.
In Ocean County, Christie is fortunate that he has in GOP Chair George Gilmore and Executive Director Rob Cressen superb leadership for a highly effective county GOP organization that is noteworthy for excellent GOTV capability. In many other counties, he has to hope that GOTV will be less necessary to bring out to the polls anti-Corzine voters determined to deny the incumbent Governor a second term.
At this point, the election is literally too close to call. It would be most unwise for gamblers to bet either way on this one.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and seven federally recognized Indian nations.