Who won the week?

Two non-partisan polls came out showing Jon Corzine closing the gap with Chris Christie. Independent gubernatorial candidate Christopher Daggett laid

Two non-partisan polls came out showing Jon Corzine closing the gap with Chris Christie. Independent gubernatorial candidate Christopher Daggett laid out a detailed plan to cut property taxes. South Jersey was victorious in the senate leadership contest, toppling the most popular political figure in the state from the senate presidency, but with no apparent effect (so far) on the gubernatorial race. It looks like Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) will by the new speaker. And Christie, Corzine and Daggett had their first debate.

So who won the week? Daggett, according to all but one academic PolitickerNJ.com asked.

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

Daggett brought forth his plan to cut property taxes and then went on the first debate and got to emphasize it over and over again. It’s an intriguing plan that is worthy of discussion and you could see that Christie – who clearly is more worried about Daggett eating in to his support than Corzine – was looking for opportunities during the debate to expose the parts of the plan that might be less popular. By making his plan the focus of the discussion, Daggett clearly did well for himself.

The debate also elevated Daggett because he was finally on the same stage as Corzine and Christie. His final appeal in his closing statement was perhaps his strongest as he attempted to explain how he could win with just 34% of the total vote. I’m not sure people will buy it, but it was a metaphor for his overall debate performance: calm, measured, and appealing to reason.

Corzine came in second this week for three reasons: First, he kept Christie on the defensive on the insurance mandates issue, even going so far as to put his own ad up that uses clips from Christie’s initial response ad. Second, the polls show a tightening race, which is part of the steady progression that the Corzine camp has been predicting. Third, Daggett spent more time during the debate beating up on Christie more than he beat up on Corzine. So Corzine benefited because Daggett, the independent, validated many of the same critiques that Corzine was emphasizing in his attacks on Christie.

Despite his good week, my sense is that Daggett polls much better than he will perform on election day. People may find it easy to say, “Sure, I’ll vote for the Independent” in a phone survey, but once in the voting booth, questions like “Am I wasting my vote?” also come into play.

Thus, the bottom line is that the polls are right: It’s going to be a very close race.

Brigid Harrison, professor of political science and law at Montclair State University
Winner: Daggett

Chris Daggett won the week. Through his specific proposal to deal with property taxes, Daggett is demonstrating that he is willing to make tough, unpopular choices. He should be proud of his performance in the first gubernatorial debate, in which he distinguished himself as a candidate with a thorough understanding of the important issues facing the state, and specific proposals to fix what is wrong with New Jersey. In addition he offered clear cut positions on many issues, from gay marriage to medical marijuana, which some independent candidates would have dodged. Whether voters agree with him or not, they are at least privy to his positions on the issues and can make an informed decision about his candidacy.

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

Finally. A week with some real action!

Both the Monmouth Univ/Gannett and Quinnipiac polls show a real horse race. Aside from the Democratic uptick we typically see at this point in New Jersey elections, the mammogram flap seems to have started paying dividends for Jon Corzine. However, both polls were conducted largely before Chris Daggett threw down the gauntlet with his property tax plan on Tuesday. And that is now the wildcard in this race.

The property tax issue, and the fact that Daggett has articulated a plan while Chris Christie hasn’t, was a primary focus of the first debate last night. While Daggett (and Christie, too!) blamed both parties for the state’s problems, it was Christie, and not incumbent Corzine, who was backed into a corner through most of the debate. In fact, Corzine got off easy. Doesn’t anyone remember his pledge in 2006 to enact real property tax reform or call for a constitutional convention to solve the problem?

Jon Corzine’s debate performance was a bit aloof (what happened to the “personal connection” stories, such as about his son’s health scare?), but that wasn’t entirely unexpected. Importantly, he didn’t make any major gaffes to worsen his standing with voters. Christie, on the other hand, was forced to attack both Corzine’s record and Daggett’s plan. In the end, Daggett may have swung some Anti-Corzine voters who were giving their soft support to Christie over to the independent’s side. Ultimately, that shift would benefit Jon Corzine. But in terms of setting the agenda, and a witty debate performance, Chris Daggett is this week’s clear winner.

Peter Woolley, professor of political science and pollster at Fairleigh Dickinson University
Winner: Corzine

Despite that the Democratic elite was engaged in a full-fledged donnybrook over legislative leadership roles, their governor would seem to have come out ahead.

First, headlines screamed that he was "closing the gap" in polls of New Jersey voters, conveniently overlooking the fact that his vote share didn't seem to increase compared to previous measures, and that he was still attracting to his banner fewer than 4 of 5 self-identified Democrats.

Moreover, the governor easily exceeded universally low expectations for his debate performance. He also got a bonus from Daggett, anointed as "the" third-party candidate, who slashed at Christie and revealed that his own solution to high property taxes is to raise money through extended sales taxes, all the while "asking" public employees to pay more for their pension plans.

Who won the week?