District 36 may not be such a long shot for Republicans, according to one GOP campaign consultant.
Republican consultant Rick Shaftan, who’s running Mike Guarino’s campaign for the 36th district state Senate seat against Democratic incumbent Paul Sarlo, just released a poll that shows Guarino trailing Sarlo by 17 points. It would be a discouraging spread for someone considered a serious contender, perhaps, but it's cause for optimism for Guarino, who at 78 became the Republican nominee after earning enough write-in votes.
The poll of 270 likely 36th district voters shows Sarlo ahead of Guarino, 46.5% to 29%. On a question focusing solely on Sarlo’s tenure, 38% of respondents hoped to reelect him, while 33.2% wanted to elect someone new.
If Republicans are going to take down Sarlo, they’ll need to tie him closely with Gov. Corzine and his tax policies, according to the poll. Shaftan found that Corzine had a 37% favorability rating, with 32% unfavorable and 21% with mixed feelings. If accurate, this provides a striking contrast with Corzine’s statewide approval rating, measured last month at 50%, according to last month’s Fairleigh Dickinson University poll.
“The real thing here is that you have a bellwether district, Corzine doesn’t walk on water, his incumbent’s overrated, and I think that when you get into these key districts rather than looking at statewide numbers you’ll find Corzine has very big negatives,” said Shaftan.
Taxes are by far the dominant issue in the race, said Shaftan, who thinks that voters will be disappointed and ultimately disenchanted with Corzine’s promised property tax relief. Shaftan is betting that the tax issues, combined with Corzine’s controversial monetization plan, could drive the Governor’s popularity further down in the district. In other words, the Republicans need to associate Sarlo with Corzine if there is to be any chance of a Guarino victory.
“There’s absolutely a fight. It’s a competitive race. And if the turnpike issue arises more, that generic ballot is going to tighten substantially,” said Shaftan. “Corzine’s got some big, serious political problems, and anybody who’s identified with Corzine and his taxes will lose.”
But Chris Eilert, Sarlo’s Chief of Staff, did not take the poll seriously, saying that the numbers did not look realistic.
“The poll is laughable. It’s nothing more than a publicity stunt by a desperate campaign that even Republican leaders don’t support,” said Eilert. “The people of district 36 support Paul Sarlo because of his record of providing millions of dollars in property tax relief and fighting to improve quality of life issues.”
Guarino’s campaign is still, by most accounts, a long shot. While the numbers may look somewhat promising for such an unknown candidate with very little money, Sarlo has yet to even start campaigning, said David Rebovich, Managing Director of the Rider University Institute for New Jersey Politics and PoliticsNJ.com contributor.
“Once the campaign kicks in and Sarlo starts to refer to himself as the guy working hard for you in Trenton, that can counterbalance some of the criticisms made by the republicans,” said Rebovich.
Guarino’s motivation to run was his opposition to Bergen County’s troubled EnCap development project and all politicians who support it. But aside from the opportunity to pick up a seat district 36, Republicans may have a more realistic motivation, say observers – to keep Sarlo’s war chest, which according to the latest filings available online amounts to a little under $600,000, from finding its way to more embattled Democratic candidates.
“Certainly Republicans are looking for candidates to carry the party banner and run serious campaigns in as many districts as possible so that there is less wheeling or channeling of campaign funds to help the vulnerable, or to help democrats in areas where they might pick up seats in south jersey,” said Rebovich.