Twelve years ago, New Jersey Democrats were begging – literally – for the Democratic National Committee and President Bill Clinton for help in the race for Governor. National Democrats saw polling that had popular Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman ahead of Democrat James E. McGreevey, a one-term State Senator and Mayor of Woodbridge who was good on message discipline. The DNC pollster, Mark Penn, said McGreevey had no chance. But in New Jersey, Democrats sensed an opportunity. National Democrats viewed Virginia as the more winnable race, and poured millions of dollars into the campaign of Lt. Gov. Donald Beyer.
On Election Day, Beyer lost 56%-43% to Republican James Gilmore, the state Attorney General. McGreevey came within one percentage point of upsetting Whitman, 47%-46%, a margin of 25,426 votes. Some New Jersey Democrats still think Whitman would have lost if they DNC had helped.
Politico reports today that "With a month to go until Election Day, national Democrats are increasingly optimistic about their chances to win the New Jersey governor's race while cautious, or downright skeptical, about their prospects in the Virginia gubernatorial contest. It's a striking reversal from the conventional wisdom as recently as this summer, when Democratic-trending Virginia was seen as the better bet and top party officials were so worried about New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine's prospects that there was talk of replacing him on the ballot."