Who won the week?

Chris Christie pushed a (disputed) connection between the gaming industry and a hedge fund Governor Corzine has a stake in. Corzine pointed to Christie’s investment in a company whose executives he prosecuted. Corzine issued an ad that basically called Christie fat, and pressed harder on the charge that Christie’s mandate free insurance plan would allow companies to drop mammograms from their plans. Members of the Latino Leadership Alliance fought amongst themselves regarding the group’s endorsement. Most polls showed Christie maintaining a solid lead over Corzine. Independent Christopher Daggett's lawsuit over ballot placement went nowhere.

So who won the week? Two experts give it to Christie, one says Corzine, and one calls it a tie.

Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute
Winner: Christie

It's getting really tough to call a winner on these things, because the campaigns are determined to make this election a game of keep-away. I'll give the nod to Christie this week, just for the heck of it.

Christie: He was able to highlight a split in the Latino Leadership Alliance to his advantage and his "Go to North Dakota" radio ad was my personal favorite for the week (although I don't think the voter impact will be significant). But his biggest achievement was the "scoop" on Corzine's hedge fund investments. (And by the way, if anyone out there doesn't believe that every one of these gotcha stories has the campaigns' fingerprints on them, please consider placing a bid on the bridge I have for sale on Ebay.) It's not that I think the TPG-Axon story will gain much traction with voters, but it keeps the media diverted from pressing the Republican on either his lack of specific plans or his past transgressions.

Corzine: He picked up a number of endorsements from some public unions (not unexpected), Latino leaders (who were divided), and Senator Stack (in all-important Hudson County, but not sure of the GOTV impact). He also had a positive event in South Jersey, and he is plastering Obama-Corzine billboards all over the state's cities. But the Democrat had to spend most of his time this week addressing the hedge fund charges.

Daggett: Apparently, it took the independent candidate until now to realize that our ballot assignment system favors the two major parties. Go figure. More importantly, he still hasn't answered the question of why he is running (except for his ability to negotiate broken escalators).

Joseph Marbach, political science professor at Seton Hall University
Winner: Christie

Christie was the clear winner this week, even after he reported investing in a company that his office was investigating while U.S. Attorney. Polls released this week indicate that he is maintaining his lead.

Corzine's investment in TCP-Axon was the focus of many of the state's newspapers, and while this investment is probably legal, the perception of a conflict of interest persists. Additionally, a report was released telling us what we already knew, that New Jersey ranked 50th among the states in property tax rates. Finally, the Governor decision not to participate in the 101.5 radio debate, resulting in the station essentially "declaring war" on his campaign. (In the interest of full disclosure, I must point out that I am a regular commentator on WBGO, the station that the Governor has agreed to participate in a radio debate.)

Daggett's suit to challenge the preferred position of the Democratic and Republican parties on the ballots was dismissed by the court, citing inadequate time to hear the case and alter the ballot if Daggett's challenge was successful.

Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.
Winner: Corzine

The incumbent has started to focus his message on the policy differences between himself and Christie, particularly on issues relating to women, who may well be a key swing vote demographic in this election. The policy-oriented ads highlighting differences on insurance mandates, abortion, stimulus money, etc., will probably help him get positive coverage from editorial boards who, like so many New Jerseyans, are pretty tired of the personal attacks and are looking to cover substantive differences on issues over the next few weeks.

At the same time, the Christie campaign offered a new line of attack this week: Corzine is personally corrupt (or, at a minimum, guilty of extremely poor judgment) because of conflicts of interest relating to high-end investment funds.

I am not sure this new line of attack will work for two reasons. First, at this late stage, voters are beginning to pay more attention to the campaign and therefore they tend to be more critical of negative personal attacks (as opposed to negative ads relating to policy issues). Personal attacks that are released in late September come across as a way to avoid “real” issues, and therefore have less of an impact one might expect. In addition, Corzine is already pretty unpopular. I am not sure how much more unpopular the Christie campaign can make him with this “personal corruption” theme.

Second, and perhaps more significantly, I am not convinced that the voters will buy the accusation that Corzine – whose significant personal wealth is well established – chose to enter politics to make money. In 1988, Republican Senate candidate Pete Dawkins accused multi-millionaire Frank Lautenberg of doing that, and it just didn’t fly. I am not sure it will in 2009 either.

Brigid Harrison, professor of political science at Montclair State University
Result: tie

This week was a draw. On the one hand, Christie managed to may some hay (albeit temporary) questioning Corzine investment portfolio, and he remains solidly ahead in most polls. On the other hand, the Strategic Vision poll shows a decrease in Christie's lead, and the Greenberg poll shows the race even (though it appears that Democrats are oversampled and Independents undersampled in this poll). Also, the endorsements of Corzine by police, firefighters, and State Sen./Mayor Brian Stack was welcome news to the Corzine camp. Corzine continues to dominate the airwaves in both major media markets. And while the Christie campaign deserves kudos for creativity on the web-based ad campaigns, that energy is only well-spent if undecided voters are watching, which doesn't appear to be the case. With 38 days to go, in the next week we'll be watching to see if the Corzine ad blitz starts to gain traction with voters, if endorsements (especially by organized labor) are being followed through with energetic mobilization of membership, and Christie's debate performance, which could prove key to many swing voters. Who won the week?