Who won the week?

It wasn’t the most exciting week in New Jersey gubernatorial politics. The unemployment rate went up again. Governor Corzine touted a decrease in uninsured New Jerseyans. A Monmouth University poll showed Chris Christie ahead of Corzine, but his leadshrank from the previous month. Corzine agreed to do a debate on a jazz format public radio station, but avoided 101.5fm and the League of Women Voters/ABC televised debates. Jeb Bush turned up unexpectedly at a Christie fundraiser (although they had a name tag ready for him). And Chris Daggett said he’ll sue over ballot position.

Still, this close to the election, everything counts. So who won the week?

 

Brigid Harrison, political science professor at Montclair State University
Winner: Christie

Chris Christie won the week (or perhaps more accurately, Jon Corzine lost the week). We’re 46 days out from election day in what is typically characterized as a “blue” state, with a well-financed incumbent governor who should be the focus of Democratic energies nationwide. But instead Jon Corzine continues to flounder in polls, both partisan and neutral. He remains down between 8-11 points, and importantly, the Neighborhood Research poll has Corzine tied in Bergen, which should be alarming to the Democrats. Though Christie has faced ongoing fallout from various missteps, including the Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law testimony and the continuation of the Guadagno/Newark saga, Corzine’s message has yet to translate into support at the polls, which historically has started to occur for Democrats at this stage of a gubernatorial campaign.

Ben Dworkin, Director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University
Winner: Christie (barely)

Each side had a so-so week, but I’ll give the edge to Christie this time. This is largely because the overall unemployment number got the most play among the general electorate, and feeds into the Republican’s “time for a change” theme. The Corzine team can talk about the increase in private sector jobs, but it’s the overall number that grabs most people’s attention.

However, among political insiders and the more sophisticated voters, Corzine actually got the edge. The messages from his campaign are starting to get more specific, and that will help him with editorial boards and the more sophisticated voters, especially because it contrasts with Christie’s relative lack of specifics on his economic plan. As I indicate above, so far, the public doesn’t seem to care about how Christie will pay for his fiscal plan, and that will matter a lot if it continues through election day. His name is not “Corzine” and that seems to be enough for many voters right now. (Whether this is fair or not is, of course, another question.)

There are ominous signs for both candidates. Corzine continues to have upside down approval ratings. It is going to be that much more difficult to utilize a Democratic advantage in GOTV efforts if people just aren’t excited about the candidate. As a
corollary, he is getting only 77% approval from Democrats (and just 68% approval African-Americans and Hispanics) according to the Monmouth/Gannett poll. If the Democrats are going to be able to take advantage of their numerical superiority, they need these numbers to jump 15 to 20 percent and the time frame is getting smaller.

As for Christie, his negatives continue to rise (doubling in less than six months) – as one would expect given the onslaught of negative ads he has had to bear – and his positive rating has pretty much flatlined around 40%. Perhaps more importantly, fully 30% of the public doesn’t know him or have any opinion. This continues to make him susceptible to Democratic attacks, and no one should be surprised to see more of those ads in the final month and a half.

Peter Woolley, Director of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind poll
Result: tie

It appears that in Anne Milgram, New Jersey has the independent-minded and competent A.G. many have lamented has been missing for so long. But it is debatable whether, in the short run, her high profile investigations are helping or hurting the Democratic campaign. Undoubtedly, some voters will
draw the conclusion that her probes are evidence of the governor’s effectiveness and commitment to good government; others will say this is simply more evidence that the state continues to be the archetype of
avaricious mismanagement and that too little has been done to combat this ill.

On the other hand, someone running the Republican fundraiser this week forgot to relay to the interloping Bush brother that, after W. vacated the White House with job approval from just 1-in-5 New Jersey voters, their name, for the time being, continues to be poison to mainstream voters.

Patrick Murray, Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute
Result: tie

Chris Christie maintained his lead in polls released this week, but the Monmouth University/Gannett Poll showed the Republican with a smaller margin than the previous month. Despite this volatility in the horse race – which should not be entirely unexpected in New Jersey – the good news for Christie is that his rising “unfavorable” ratings may have topped out, at least for now. Christie also picked up the endorsement of most of the Elizabeth board of education, furthering his drive to undercut the Democratic base. However, Jeb Bush’s appearance at a recent fundraiser was probably not the most welcome “endorsement.”

The Monmouth/Gannett Poll also had some good news for Governor Corzine he appears to be regaining support among core Democratic voter groups. The challenge he now faces is actually motivating them out to vote. This week’s by Latino leaders may go some way to aid that effort. On the other hand, recent news about a rise in state unemployment and a big drop in median income can only hurt an incumbent. Still, Corzine’s camp made some mart moves strategically, that may pay dividends in the long run. By accepting the offer to debate on WBGO, while rejecting the NJ101.5 and ABC invitations, Corzine can claim he is debating three times (including the two ELEC debates) while avoiding being under fire in front of larger audiences. Also, the governor had a real humanizing moment this week when he talked about his son’s open heart surgery at an event on health care (which was trumpeted by his campaign in an email blast). This is just the kind of personal connection with New Jerseyans Corzine has had trouble making in the past and more of the same could serve him well as he tries to win over undecided voters.

Who won the week?