If Governor Corzine's calls for concessions from state workers are a political liability this year for Democratic Assembly members Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) and Wayne DeAngelo (D-Hamilton), then Greenstein thinks former U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie's comments about laying off state workers may have made the race much more difficult for whomever the Republicans run.
"It is true that Chris Christie seems to me, in a couple spots, to be taking a very anti-union approach, and I do believe the very people who will be running under him will be in a difficult position," said Greenstein.
Christie made the comments, subsequently reported by the Associated Press, on Friday morning's Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC.
Greenstein and DeAngelo, a freshman, sit in a district that is at the top of Republicans' target list this election cycle — an area next to Trenton where state workers' unions and private sector organized labor members make up a large and extremely influential portion of the electorate.
Both Democrats have delicately balanced opposition to any of the Governor's budget plans that hit public workers, like the proposed 12-day furlough, with their support for his reelection. That their opposition to those measures is a political necessity was borne out by a recent Quinnipiac poll that showed the Governor's approvals within the traditionally Democratic households of state employees upside down, with 56% disapproving and only 31% approving.
Greenstein said that she hopes her constituents' perception of Corzine improves once his campaign message kicks in.
"I think we have a lot of work to do in our district trying to show the good things that he has done in the last couple years. I don't think they've gotten out there much," she said.
The district's Republican state senator, Bill Baroni (R-Hamilton), is pro-labor as well, which has led more conservative members of the party to criticize him. He would not speak for how the future Republican assembly candidates should approach the question of state worker layoffs, but he did criticize the Governor's proposals.
"The budget the Governor proposed puts a target on the back of public employees, not just with wage freezes, layoffs and furlough, but with the under-funding of the pension system and the pension holiday they're trying to do today," said Baroni. "I think the public employees who pay exact attention to the campaign will weigh the candidates and choose who is best."
Baroni said that he did not hear Christie's comments on laying off state workers, but that the Republican frontrunners' pledges to get rid of political patronage positions will resonate with the 14th District's residents.
"I'll have the opportunity to talk about his importance to the rank and file," said Baroni. "Our attention needs to be on the political patronage jobs."
Monmouth University pollster and political science professor Patrick Murray said that Greenstein and DeAngelo will have to insulate themselves from the Governor's proposals by voting against any legislation that includes them – something that could serve to make them more popular in the district..
But Christie's position on state workers layoffs, Murray said, will not likely hurt down ballot Republicans.
"Almost always these local races are local races, and it doesn't matter what the top of the ticket says," said Murray. "This being state workers' unions, I think the anger will be more directed towards Corzine if he carries through with his threats on what to do than they would be at the Republican assembly candidates."
During a conference call, Christie declined to say exactly how many state workers he anticipates laying off if elected.
"I would at least put out there on the table that the size of the state workers need to be reduced, and not just unionized state workers, but more importantly political patronage workers," he said.
In response to a follow-up question from PolitickerNJ.com about whether he was afraid of hurting Republicans' chances for a pickup in the 14th district, Christie said, "No. Voters appreciate doing what's right."