Forty-six days until election day, state Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford)and state Senate candidate Assemblyman Michael Doherty (R-Washington Twp.)are dug in with their respective gubernatorial candidates.Doherty attendeda Warren County Christie campaign headquarters the other night, and Sweeney welcomes Gov. Jon Corzine to South Jersey on Tuesday.
“This race is the economy,” said Doherty, a supporter of Republican challenger Chris Christie, and a heavy favorite to win his general election contest on Nov. 3rd.
“The people of New Jersey are going to decide whether they are better off now than four years ago,” argued Doherty.”This is a governor who sold himself as a businessmanwho was going to work to improve the business climate. He has failed utterly in that regard. If you could pick a spot anywherein theworld to have thriving economy, you’d say this ispretty good spot. We haveports, we’re right betweenPhiladelphia andNew York, in an area that should be great for jobs, withtremendous resources. But theeconomy here is lagging so far behind neighboring states, it’s embarrassing – and painful.”
Although he has in the days since Labor Day made more headlines as an intra-partychallenger to Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland) than as agubernatorial race go-to-guy, Sweeneyplayed breakfast host to Corzinea week ago, and this coming week will again welcome the governor to Paulsboro.
“I thinkJon Corzinewill win South Jersey,” said Sweeney.”He’srunning a better campaign thantheCorzine camp. It’svery aggressive and therea lot of soldiers heavily working and canvassing our voters. By no means am I saying they’re enamored withJon Corzine, but voters know what this governor has done.”
Sweeney said Christie routinely avoidstalking about specific measures he would implement as governor.
“I think Chris’s campaign has been characterized by evasiveness and a refusal to say what he’s going to do,” said the majority leader.”He won’t tell you how he’s going to cut taxes. People want to see his plan and all he’s saying is he will do all this by growing the economy. How, Chris? How?”
Doherty said he’s heard Christie lay out a plan to rein in regulatory agencies like the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
“The regulatory burden that has been allowed to expand not only under McGreevey but under Corzine, has damaged business,” said Doherty.”Business people want consistency and predictability. This country was made by industrious people taking the bull by the horns and getting things done, but our bureaucracies are hindering that – thanks to this governor.”
Hitting back, Sweeney said the storyline Christieusually highlights about New Jersey residents fleeing the statebecause of high property taxes and no work doesn’t resonate in his South Jersey district.
“A lot of peoplehave moved here from Pennsylvania and Delaware,” said Sweeney. “Chris talks about everyone fleeing the state, butwe’ve grown – we have the fastest growing county in the State ofNew Jersey. Peoplecan get a house here for $400,000 that would be $700,000 on the other side of the river. They’re willing to pay higher taxes because their homes have more value.”
Doherty maintains that residents in his Warren-Hunterdon district and beyondalong the Delaware see first hand the benefits of stronger leadership on the other side of the river.
“Jon Corzine hassuch high negatives, you see in poll after poll thatit looks like the votersare going to giveChris Christiethe chance to be the next governor,” said Doherty. “They’ve seen(Pennsylvania Gov. Ed)Rendell take Jon Corzine’s lunch money away from him, andthat will resonate well with the border towns of New Jersey, from north to south Jersey.”
Sweeney concedes the political climate is not good for an incumbent. Moreover, he and Corzine have not lined up on issues impacting gay marriage, for example, and public sector employees.
“We differ on many issues,”said Sweeney, who when asked named what he believes are the governor’s top three accomplishments.”He delivered on education funding reform, everyone has fought ever since Abbott to do that but his formula won approval and withstood a court challenge,” Sweeney said. “He’snot raiding the unemployment fund anymore – a big thing symbolically given the history, and third, he’sexpanded healthcare. There are150,000 more people on healthcare because of Corzine’s record. In a bad economy, he’sdone good things.”
But Doherty said the polls show a different endgame.
As a staunchally of Christie’s GOP Primary opponent, Steve Lonegan, the state senate candidate said the ranks have closed enthusiastically behind the party’s nominee. He knows the state’s demographics work against Republicans, but sees a strong gubernatorial candidate in Christie.
“All Republicans are unified behind our best chance to win a statewide race in over a decade – people know thisthis may be our bestshot,” Doherty said.