The final certified 2009 gubernatorial election returns show that Chris Christie defeated Jon Corzine by 86,000. Percentage totals were as follows:
Christie won the election by 3.57 percent. The margin could best be described as close, but not razor thin.
In evaluating and analyzing this election, a good basis for comparison is with the last time a Republican gubernatorial challenger defeated a Democrat incumbent: Christie Whitman’s victory over Jim Florio in 1993. The bottom line result: This was a Monmouth/Ocean election, plain and simple, and in these counties the decisive factor, in my view, was Corzine’s 2007/2008 proposal of “asset monetization” of the state’s toll roads, financed by a toll hike.
This may have been the most foolish proposal, politically speaking, made by a New Jersey Governor over the past five decades. Monmouth and Ocean are two counties whose residents use the toll roads perhaps more than anybody else in the Garden State.
It must also be said that the Asbury Park Press and 101.5-FM continuous attacks on Corzine also hurt the Governor in Ocean/Monmouth. This does not compare, however, with the damage Corzine did to himself with the toll-hike plan. When the Governor raised the possibility of reviving this plan in his pre-election interview with the New York Times, he put the final nail in his electoral coffin.
The extent to which Monmouth/Ocean won this race for Christie is demonstrated most graphically by the following:
In 1993, outside of Monmouth/Ocean, Florio had a lead in the rest of the state over Whitman of 8,000 votes. Whitman won Ocean/Monmouth by 34,000, giving her a statewide victory margin of 26,000.
In 2009, Corzine actually substantially surpassed Florio’s 1993 statewide performance outside Monmouth/Ocean. The Governor’s 2009 margin statewide outside Monmouth/Ocean was 49,000, over six times the 1993 Florio 8,000 margin.
In Monmouth/Ocean, however, Chris Christie won by 135,000, almost four times the Whitman 1993 Ocean/Monmouth margin of 34,000 votes. The Monmouth/Ocean 135,000 plurality for Christie offset his 49,000 vote deficit in the rest of the state, giving him his 86,000 vote plurality.
There are five significant reasons why Corzine 2009 substantially outperformed Florio 1993 statewide outside Ocean/Monmouth.
First, Corzine won Essex/Hudson by 123,000, as compared to Florio’s 1993 Essex/Hudson margin of 64,000, a spread of 59,000 votes.
Second, Corzine won Bergen County in 2009 by 6,000 votes, as compared to Florio’s 10,000 vote loss of Bergen to Whitman in 1993, a spread of 16,000 votes.
Third, Corzine won Union County in 2009 by 12,000, as compared to Florio’s 193 vote margin in 1993.
Fourth, Corzine won Mercer County by 15,000, as opposed to Florio’s 7,000 loss in 1993, a spread of 22,000 votes. Here, Corzine’s appeasement of the state workers unions paid off for him. It was terrible policy, but beneficial politics for the Governor’s reelection prospects. By contrast: In 1992, the Republican legislature cut Florio’s proposed budget by $1 billion. Florio then adjusted his proposed departmental budgets by layoffs and freezes on state worker salaries. He did the right thing, but the state worker unions hated Florio thereafter. This resulted in Whitman carrying Mercer County.
Fifth, Corzine won Passaic County by 8,500, as opposed to Florio’s 10,000 loss in 1993, a spread of 18,500 votes.
These five areas above constitute a spread of 127,500 in terms of Corzine 2009 outperforming Florio 1993 in certain key areas. It more than made up for substantial spreads totalling 94,000 votes in areas where Florio 1993 outperformed Corzine 2009: Camden (20,000), Gloucester (13,000), Middlesex (6,000), the five Northwest Counties (35,000), Burlington (5,000), and Atlantic (15,000).
As mentioned above, however, this all came to nought as a result of the huge landslide for Chris Christie in Ocean/Monmouth. Had the Governor-elect won Ocean/Monmouth by the Whitman 1993 margin of 34,000, he would have lost the election by 15,000 votes.
A few concluding observations:
1. It must be said that President Obama’s New Jersey appearances really did help Corzine, as evidenced by the Governor’s 75,000 vote outperformance of Florio 1993 in the combined areas of Essex/Hudson and Bergen.
2. Based on the National Election Pool/Edison Research exit poll, the Chris Daggett candidacy actually cost Jon Corzine a net of .7 of a percentage point in his losing margin (i.e., based on the second choice of Daggett voters, the Governor’s losing margin would have otherwise been 2.87 percent).
In retrospect, the Christie campaign was wise to attack Daggett’s proposed extension of the sales tax. Had Daggett scored a 10 percent vote share, Christie’s election would have been imperilled.
3. Christie’s margin in Monmouth County was also assisted by his designation of Sheriff Kim Guadagno as his running mate and Senator Joe Kyrillos (the most popular elected office holder in Monmouth County) as his state campaign chair.
4. In Ocean County, Christie’s campaign benefitted immensely from the organizational and Get-Out-The-Vote efforts of Ocean County GOP chair George Gilmore and his Executive Director, Rob Cressen. Gilmore is the most effective County Republican chair in New Jersey over the past three decades, and Cressen is the state’s top GOP political operative.
5. Query: Will the increased Republican dependence on Ocean/Monmouth compel future GOP statewide candidates to have a more conservative message in order to mobilize their Monmouth/Ocean supporters? It would be interesting to poll Monmouth/Ocean voters on key social issues, including gay marriage and abortion (both of which Christie opposes).
6. Perhaps the most significant future challenge for Chris Christie will be to expand his geographic base of support.
Even if Christie proves to be a highly successful Governor, he will be hard pressed to duplicate in the 2013 election his 2009 Ocean/Monmouth performance. He can make up any shortfall in these two counties, however, by increasing his support base in Bergen, Union, and Passaic counties, where the GOP has declined significantly since the Whitman years.
Indeed, on NJGOP Chair Jay Webber’s agenda, two items have to be of paramount importance. The first is working with GOP Assembly and Senate leadership to win a more favorable legislative district map than the Larry Bartels disaster of 2001. The second is to work with local Republican leadership to rebuild the party in Bergen, Union, and Passaic counties not only for the benefit of Governor-elect Christie but for all future GOP statewide candidates.
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.