Republican gubernatorial candidate Christopher Christie tried to change the subject after two weeks of bad press. First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michele Brown resigned. New Jersey 101.5 reported on Christie’s tickets from a 2005 traffic stop, causing Christie’s campaign to mock the media’s focus on minor foibles. Christie and independent Christopher Daggett both accused Gov. Jon Corzine of trying to compress the televised debate schedule.
Corzine won the week, according to three political scientists and pollsters. Not because of anything particularly good on his end, but because the continued spates of bad press for Christie helps him tarnish Christie’s once squeaky clean image.
Brigid Harrison, political science professor at Montclair State University
Jon Corzine won the week. The revelations concerning Christie’s traffic violations — while dismissed as irrelevant by many of his supporters who evoke the violations surrounding Jon Corzine’s accident — represent yet another blow to campaign that was bruised in the past several weeks after the Karl Rove and Michelle Brown stories broke. While none of these are campaign-ending missteps (and while voters may actually care very little about any of them), they provide enough fodder for Democrats to use against Christie. Using Jon Corzine’s campaign war chest, Democrats will argue that these decisions indicate a pattern of poor judgment. And because many voters in the state know comparatively little about Chris Christie, they are more susceptible to these attempts to sully his character. Finally, all of polls released this week (both partisan and non-partisan) show an erosion of Christie’s lead. In many polls the race is within the margin of error, and in many Christie’s negatives are up.
Patrick Murray, pollster and political science professor at Monmouth University
It was a good week for the incumbent. Strategically-timed (coincidental?) scoops about the Michele Brown loan and Chris Christie’s traffic tickets added to the steady drip, drip, drip that’s causing the Republican’s negative numbers to rise. Christie’s decision to engage in the mud-fest by questioning the ethics of Corzine aides is exactly what the Democratic camp wanted him to do. The point is not to make Christie a criminal, just to level the playing field by painting him as no better than a typical politician. On that point, Corzine emerges as the week’s winner. But the campaign’s continuing negative tone means that New Jersey’s voters are likely to be the real losers.
Joe Marbach, political science professor at Seton Hall University
Corzine won this week. Christie was on the defensive all week explaining his relationship with Brown and his failure to report the mortgage loan to the Justice Department and to claim the income on his taxes. The revelations about the speeding ticket in 2005 also focused on another shortcoming. The only positives for Christie was the resignation of Brown, which brought out some Republican ire and will likely make the issue moot, and the fact that this is occurring in August, when few voters are paying attention to the campaign. One cautionary note to the Corzine campaign, folks who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw too many stones.
Peter Woolley, pollster and political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University
It was Glass House Week in New Jersey. While the campaigns slung stones over personal loans and driving records, it became clear that two lessons need reinforcement for future candidates. First, loaning money to people you work for, with or over, creates a potential conflict of interest. A Law of Proportions follows: the more money loaned, the greater the potential for conflict of interest. The second lesson is that driving safely is not only public-regarding and self-preserving, but it is the $@*&-ing law.
Meanwhile, voters can take away two lessons for themselves. First, if a candidate loans you money, you may accept (unless you plan to be a candidate yourself), but be prepared for an onslaught of media attention. Second, if a candidate offers you a lift in his accident-prone car, keep walking.
Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics
What we saw this week was the continued push by Corzine to challenge Christie as a hypocrite on ethics, and the beginning of a strong push back by the Chris Christie campaign in an effort to shift the focus of the race.
While these kinds of charges and counter-chargers are pretty standard for New Jersey politics, what is also standard is that absolutely nothing involved here explains how we are going to deal with the challenges of property taxes, high unemployment, a multi-billion dollar structural deficit.
After this week, Christie’s big challenge is to come up with a 3rd act. He’s talked about corruption. He talked about how Corzine has been at the helm while the economy has fallen. What’s next? Presumably, it would be a plan for the future, but that might set him up for criticism for the lack of details in program.
Corzine’s big challenge now is to follow up this attacks on ethics with attacks on policy, which can be a double-edged sword since many New Jerseyans may be willing to accept the Christie argument that Corzine’s policies are one of the reasons things are off track.
That having been said, I would imagine that after Labor Day, Corzine will start talking about Christie’s refusal to take federal stimulus money – a major policy disagreement between the two campaigns – in an effort to draw out partisan differences between the two. There area about 700,000 more Democrats than Republicans in New Jersey, so it would make sense for Corzine to try to draw that distinction more clearly as we get closer to election day.