Who won the week?

Chris Daggett won the endorsement of the Star-Ledger, and later complained about the Republican Governors Association’s ads against him. It was revealed that Chris Christie went over the Justice Department’s hotel budget when he was U.S. Attorney. An email surfaced asking Governor Corzine’s cabinet to “get creative” in showing how Corzine’s economic policies are working – even if it’s a “stretch.” Polls continue to show a deadlocked race between Corzine and Christie.

So who won the week? Our panel of experts was divided.

Joseph Marbach, Dean of the College of Arts and Science at Seton Hall University
Winner: Chris Christie

Christie won this week. His campaign successfully parried the weight issue that the Corzine campaign subtly and overtly sought to exploit. In turning the tables, Corzine’s momentum and gains with independent women voters was slowed and may even have been reversed. The “smoking gun” memo instructing cabinet members to stage events focusing on jobs, force the Corzine campaign to explain and defend itself, taking the campaign off message. Finally, recent polls show Christie maintaining a slight lead, a further indication that the Corzine momentum of the last few weeks has slowed.

While the week started out promising for Chris Daggett with the Star Ledger’s endorsement, the Quinnipiac poll indicating the over three-quarters of those surveyed do not believe he has a chance of winning put a damper on buzz that the endorsement generated. He’s now facing raised expectations and may be the target of both Corzine and Christie attacks in tonight’s debate.

Peter Woolley, Executive Director of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind Poll
Winner: Jon Corzine

This is like the eighth round of an Ali-Frazier fight. But it’s the public who is becoming exhausted rather than the contestants.

One might be tempted to say Daggett won the propaganda war this week with an endorsement from a major newspaper–assuming “major newspaper” is not yet an oxymoron. But it was Corzine who continued to dominate the headlines with horse-race reports putting him neck and neck with the challenger and announcements of visits from the vice-president, the ever-popular former president Bill Clinton and, next week, the president himself.

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

Three weeks: Ahhhh. Light at the end of the tunnel.

Chris Daggett won the week by default. Daggett’s numbers continue to improve, and he continues to attract fire from the Republican camp including being the target of a Republican Governor’s Association radio ad. Being the focus of these attacks serves to increase coverage of his campaign in the free media. More media coverage increases Daggett’s name recognition, increases contributions to his campaign, mobilizes and energies his supporters, and further legitimizes his candidacy at no monetary to the Daggett campaign.

Governor Corzine’s improving performance in polls would have warranted him the win for the week, but the Matzen memo was an inexcusable gaffe — not quite a Pentagon Papers indicator, but nonetheless a tell that showed little esteem for voters. The memo generated negative media coverage (just what the Governor needed right now) and bolstered many voters’ already-held cynical view of politics in general, and Democratic party politics in New Jersey in particular. The goal of the “stretch” memo was to generate optimism about new jobs; the outcome was the creation of pessimism about how politicians spin their accomplishments. This was rookie error by a supposedly-seasoned team.

The Christie camp fared no better: most polls shows Christie’s once double-digit lead now evaporated. His penchant for the Four Seasons hotel chain (at a cost to taxpayers of $475 a night) gives voters skeptical about his commitment to weed out the now-cliched “waste, fraud and abuse” further pause. But Christie’s continued failure to offer any specifics to those of us hungry for details about his vision for the financial future of the state and its property tax system is even more insulting to voters than stretching the truth about job creation or eschewing the Holiday Inn: Voters expect politicians to stretch their accomplishments. Voters deserve to know what their leaders stand for. The focus in the media on Christie’s weight, and the Christie campaign’s take on this non-starter issue is an indicator of how out of touch this campaign is with voters who are struggling to pay their taxes. If Christie had articulated a cohesive, specific vision of how he can cut taxes, where he would cut spending, many voters would have gladly hoisted him on their shoulders and paraded him down mainstreet, no matter his girth.

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

Another odd week in this gubernatorial campaign. Each candidate had their missteps. The news about Chris Christie’s extravagant hotel bills certainly added to the undermining of his “white knight” image. The Corzine administration’s clumsy efforts to come up with “creative” events to boost their boss certainly walked a fine ethical line, but flew under the radar of most voters. The controversy over Christie’s weight escalated, probably having a small negative effect on both candidates – on Corzine for raising the issue and on Christie for having to discuss his weight.

The Star-Ledger endorsement of Chris Daggett, plus the RGA’s TV ad attacking Daggett have given greater credibility to the independent’s candidacy. However, he’s only polling around 15%. If he’s to make a move, he should be above 20% by now. In order for Daggett to do better, he has to start taking votes away from the Democrat as well as the Republican. So, the status quo is just fine with Jon Corzine.

The most consequential events of the week, though, happened behind the scenes. Corzine has arranged for some start power to come into the state next week (Obama, Clinton, Biden), organized labor and the NJEA have ramped up their activities (both in getting their membership in line for the incumbent and going on the attack against Christie), and Rev. Reginald Jackson’s endorsement indicates that the African-American leadership will get solidly behind Corzine on election day. With the polls showing this race a toss-up right now, this is exactly the kind of activity that could help put Corzine over the top.

Who won the week?