The key findings to be inferred from the Quinnipiac Poll released today are as follows:
1. The Corzine negative strategy of attempting to link Christie with currently unpopular former President George W. Bush has been a dismal failure.
2. President Obama’s popularity in New Jersey is declining rapidly, and he can help Governor Corzine only with his Democratic base.
3. Christie’s major asset is his outstanding continued showing among Republicans, but he risks losing this base if he alienates Lonegan Republican primary election voters.
4. Chris Daggett is the major wild card in this race. A strong showing by Daggett may be the only way Corzine can be reelected.
Each of these findings will be discussed hereinafter separately:
The Failed Anti-Bush Strategy
Only 10 percent of all likely voters think that Corzine’s depiction of Christie as being too close to former President George W. Bush constitutes fair criticism. It is abundantly clear that the Corzine anti-Bush strategy has backfired badly.
An overwhelming 77% of likely voters feel that Corzine should focus on state issues rather than discussing Christie’s relationship with Bush 43. Given Corzine’s declining performance approval rating (upside-down at 33%-60%, down from 36%-56% in June), it is obvious why Corzine does not want to discuss state issues.
In fact, it appears that the backlash against this anti-Bush strategy is the primary reason why Corzine’s share of the Independent vote has plummeted dramatically. Christie led Corzine among Independents 56%-32% in the June 10 poll, and he now leads 64%-28% in this group.
The key players in Corzine’s campaign team obviously feel that the Governor can only be reelected with a hard negative strategy. In fact, this Quinnipiac Poll showed that 40% of all voters feel that they don’t know enough about Chris Christie to form an opinion about him. So the opportunity is there for the Corzine campaign to introduce Christie to the New Jersey electorate in a negative way. The problem for Corzine is that both the anti-Bush and the anti – deferred prosecution agreement strategies have been abysmal failures. Christie has an excellent ethical record, and I have no clue as to what negative strategy could work against him.
Obama in Decline
Both the Rasmussen and Gallup Polls show that Obama’s job approval rating nationally is in a state of rapid decline – in fact, in the Rasmussen Poll, Obama’s national job approval rating has dropped to 53%. The reasons for this decline are obvious: growing unemployment, the ineffectiveness of the “stimulus package”, an energy/climate change proposal that almost certainly will lead to skyrocketing utility bills, hemorrhaging budget deficits, and a health care proposal that will likely transform American health care into the failed Canadian system.
In New Jersey, Obama is more popular than in most other places, but here, too, the President has incurred a precipitous job approval decline. According to Quinnipiac, he now has among registered voters a 61%-33% job approval score, a major decline from his 68%-25% June rating. The President’s declining rating among Independents is an even greater cause for worry among New Jersey Democrats – his numbers have fallen badly from 65%-25% in June to 54%-38% in today’s announced Quinnipiac results.
Obama does retain the overwhelming allegiance of New Jersey Democrats regarding job approval, 90%-7%. Given the relatively poor continued showing of Corzine among Democrats, 76%-19%, it is clear that Obama can benefit Corzine where he needs it the most – among the state’s 1,700,000 Democrat voters. Obama’s ability to help Corzine among the state's 2,000,000 registered Independent voters, however, is negligible.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article speculating that President Obama might limit his involvement in New Jersey, given the obstacles to Corzine’s reelection and the possibility that a Christie victory might be perceived as a rebuke of the President. I am now convinced that Obama will campaign for Corzine in New Jersey, not only for the Governor’s benefit but for the President’s as well. Obama’s national approval ratings are in a rapid state of decline, and New Jersey is one of a dwindling number of states where the President still commands a popular majority. The Obama administration truly is in free fall.
The Lonegan Factor
Chris Christie’s greatest strength in the Quinnipiac Poll continues to be his support from Republicans, 89% -7%. It is also the area of his greatest vulnerability if he alienates the 41% of New Jersey Republicans who voted for Steve Lonegan in the June primary. If Christie does not retain the allegiance of the Lonegan voters, his stock among the state’s 1,000,000 registered Republicans this November could be most adversely affected.
Christie seemed almost hell-bent on alienating these Lonegan voters during the past two weeks. Last week, he proposed an energy program that made no mention of nuclear energy, a power source that is almost holy writ positive to Republicans. In his video presentation, he said with regard to wind and solar power, “It’s a change that President Obama stands firmly behind. I couldn’t agree more.” Nothing could more offend Lonegan voters – and Republican conservatives in general – than a self-association of Christie with Barack Obama – the President’s Quinnipiac job approval number among Republicans in New Jersey is an abysmal 21%-71% negative.
Even worse was Christie’s reaction to Lonegan’s op-ed yesterday entitled “The Hollow Men”, blasting the state GOP establishment. When asked about it, Christie responded, “I don’t think Steve really means that. He probably just had a bad morning.”
This rather disrespectful and dismissive response is the kind of rhetoric that sends Lonegan supporters into a frenzy and keeps them away from the polls in November. I often get the feeling that the Christie campaign leadership team totally fails to understand the depth of anger that movement conservatives feel towards the New Jersey GOP establishment.
This does not mean that Chris Christie has to agree with all the contentions of Lonegan in “The Hollow Men.” He does, however, have to at least communicate with the Lonegan supporters his message that he is seeking common ground with them. The restoration to the Christie campaign website of the “Shared Values” section outlining Chris’s opposition to abortion and a pledge to veto same-sex marriage legislation is an effective first step in this regard.
The Daggett Factor
Today’s released Quinnipiac numbers demonstrate conclusively that the candidacy of Chris Daggett negatively impacts the Christie campaign more than the Corzine reelection quest. In fact, when Daggett is included in the questioning, the Christie margin over Corzine falls from twelve points (53%-41%) to nine (Christie 47%, Corzine 38%, Daggett 8 %).
Contrary to popular belief, Daggett does not negatively impact Christie with Republican voters at all. He does, however, detract from Christie’s numbers among Independents, reducing his lead over Corzine in this group from 36% to 30%.
Most significantly, Daggett negatively impacts Christie in his geographic base, the Northwest New Jersey quadrant, consisting of Morris, Sussex, Somerset, Warren, and Hunterdon Counties. In this area, the Christie margin over Corzine is reduced from 43% to 36%.
I believe that Christie can reduce the negative impact of the Daggett candidacy by persuading Independent voters that Chris Daggett is not a viable candidate and that the choice is really between him and Corzine. He can convey this message without having to risk offending these voters by a hard negative thrust against Daggett.
Overall, what this Quinnipiac Poll provides is a guide path as to what each candidate must do to win. For Christie, the task is to 1) hold the allegiance of Republican voters, including Lonegan supporters, 2)continue to communicate to Independents and dissident Democrats the failures of the Corzine administration, and 3)convince Independents that a vote for Chris Daggett is a wasted vote for a nonviable candidate. For Corzine, the mission is to 1) significantly improve his numbers among Democrats and 2)develop an effective negative strategy against Chris Christie with which to attract Independent voters.
The problem with Corzine is that all his negative strategies have failed to date, and he is running out of time and ideas with which to effectively damage the Christie candidacy. Today, on Bastille Day, Corzine looks more and more like a Louis XVI, on the verge of being forced to abdicate his throne.
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.