Who won the week?

It was a mixed week for all three major gubernatorial candidates.

Jon Corzine brought in a star-studded cast of Democrats to rally for him, culminating in President Obama’s Wednesday night appearance in Hackensack. But the Governor had to deal with the revelation that last year he donated $87,000 to Rev. Reginald Jackson’s church, who endorsed him this month.

Chris Christie got to trumpet the three-count corruption conviction of former Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joe Ferriero, who was indicted under Christie’s watch as U.S. Attorney. But Christie also had to deal with a damaging New York Times story about how his friend and former subordinate, Michele Brown, may have improperly helped his campaign when she was First Assistant U.S. Attorney.

And Chris Daggett — who earned some unflattering news coverage after his driver left a loaded gun in a loaner car — hit 19% and 20% in two polls and claimed a 10% fundraising bump.

So who won the week? Three of our five panelists awarded the win to Corzine, one to Daggett and one called it a toss-up.

Patrick Murray, Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute
Winner: Corzine

Let’s start with the negative news. The Ferriero conviction – and the incumbent’s past contributions to the Bergen Dems – can’t help Jon Corzine, but he made sure early on to get a Weinberg inoculation for that. Likewise, Corzine’s charitable donations and their supposed linkage to subsequent endorsements is something that most New Jerseyans have come to expect from the incumbent and will move very few voters.

On the other hand, reports about Michele Brown’s alleged use of the U.S. Attorney’s office to assist her former boss (and current creditor) and Chris Christie’s recently released expense reports are negative stories that voters can easily understand. As has been happening for the past few months, each of these negative stories seems to shave a point or two from Christie’s support.

The final two debates did little to change the storyline of this campaign. Chris Daggett surged after the first debate, but it’s unclear whether his current standing is a polling artifact or a real indication of his support on election day. Regardless, he’s trailing the leader in each poll by 20 points or more and lacks the money to compete on New York and Philadelphia airwaves in the final days.

Daily campaign visits from the likes of Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, Caroline Kennedy and other top Dems would alone have made for a stellar Corzine week. But President Obama’s appearance – much more enthusiastic in his endorsement of the Governor than in his July appearance – was a real feather in Corzine’s cap because it will help bring reluctant Dems out to the polls on election day.

Importantly, the week ended with poll aggregators Pollster.com and Realclearpolitics.com both showing Corzine with a lead in the race – admittedly by less than a percentage point – for the first time since January.

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

A-list visits from President Obama, Vice President Biden, and former President Clinton served the purposes of energizing the increasingly solid Democratic base, mobilizing campaign volunteers who will be crucial in GOTV strategy, and diverting media coverage and voter attention away from imprudent contributions made by Gov. Corzine’s foundation. Poll numbers continue to tighten, with Governor Corzine shoring up support within his party, while Chris Christie’s negatives continue to climb. The Christie campaign deserves kudos for becoming slightly more specific on budgetary issues, and they won the battle to have Governor Corzine release the foundation contributions, but the ad featuring President Obama and trying to connect Christie’s candidacy and message to Obama is silly, disingenuous, and insulting to voters. The Ferriero conviction is a Christie win, mitigated by the fact that State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who much of Bergen perceives as Ferriero’s nemesis, happens to be Corzine’s running mate. Michele Brown’s increasing presence in news stories should be concerning to the campaign, who wants voters to have fewer reminders of how Christie is similar to other politicians. Chris Daggett should be buoyed by his continued climb in the poll numbers, and while the gun on the seat was a gaffe, it did generate media coverage, which is always welcomed by Independent candidates.

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

In political campaigning, not all events are equal. Corzine won the week because of the cavalcade of Democratic stars (e.g., Biden, Clinton, Obama) who came to all parts of the state to stump for him. Those events trumped everything else that happened. Christie deserves credit, however, because he’s effectively stopped the Corzine momentum. The Governor narrowed the gap but hasn’t been able to pull ahead for about two weeks.

In a race that polls show is a statistical dead head, Corzine is counting on the statewide Democratic GOTV effort to put him over the top. That effort has already started as the party’s biggest names visited to rally the base. The latest Monmouth/Gannett poll showed the Governor has not yet broken the 80% support mark among Democrats. The best way for Corzine to exploit the numerical advantage that Democrats have over Republicans in New Jersey is to get this number up. This week’s visits from high-profile Democrats may well help do that.

Stories about Chris Christie’s travel expenses and whether Michelle Brown helped the Christie campaign when she was still in the U.S. Attorney’s office were drowned out because of the big visits. The Christie attack on Corzine’s charitable giving was also largely ignored, in part because of the other things going on and in part because this criticism has been raised in previous Corzine elections and therefore seemed dated. What is clear is that each side is trying to keep their opponent “off message,” but I don’t see any of this leading to one side pulling away just yet.

I don’t think the Ferriero conviction will make much of a difference on the race for two reasons. First, corruption is not the big issue in this campaign. People are much more focused on the economy, and all the issues that come under that heading, such as taxes, unemployment, general affordability, etc. Second, I seriously doubt that anyone needed the actual “conviction” of Ferriero to convince them to vote for Christie. Voters just have to hear “indictment” to move their opinion. Anyone who was upset about the Corzine / Ferriero relationship already made up their mind. Politically, the conviction means there will be less space devoted to other political news in newspapers, but I doubt it is going to switch anyone who is on the fence.

Peter Woolley, Director of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind Poll
Result: toss-up

Frankly, I can’t tell.

Corzine might have had the edge with Democratic celebrities in town and coming again soon. But the fact is that polling measures haven’t much more than twitched for the Corzine campaign, and it will take till next week to see whether two presidents, a vice president and a president’s daughter moved the needle for him this week.

Meanwhile, the Christie campaign, which had slid into a defensive posture, began to take some initiative again. Unfortunately for them, they found themselves having to go after Daggett. But they deserve some credit for being tied this late in October in a deep blue state.

All this while the quixotic Daggett campaign continued to benefit from free press making common, romantic cause with disaffected voters. The Norman Rockwell-esque setting of the earnest independent candidacy has apparently obscured a hard look at his plan to raise more tax money in order to cut taxes, and his mantra that only he talks about real issues.

Joseph Marbach, Dean of Seton Hall University’s College of Arts and Sciences
Winner: Daggett

Two polls came out showing his support reaching at least 19 percent. This coupled with some attack ads leveled at him by the Christie camp and the Republican Governors’ Association are increasing Daggett’s visibility and name recognition.

Corzine had a good week with appearances from Vice President Biden, former President Clinton, President Obama and Caroline Kennedy. However, some of the luster was taken off by the guilty verdict in the Ferriero case, forcing him to explain his contributions to Bergen County machine that Ferriero ran. Contributions from his charitable foundation were also questioned. To the campaign’s credit, it was able to supply requested information in a timely fashion. In addition, the Corzine poll numbers seem to have leveled off this week.

Christie got some traction out of the Ferriero verdict, but continues to lose some supporters to Daggett. Questions about his spending as U.S. Attorney and his continued relationship with individuals in that office still dog him. As a result, he has been unable to woe independent voters, who seem to be gravitating to Daggett. He finds himself in a dead heat at a time when he should be comfortably ahead given the incumbent’s disapproval rating.

Who won the week?