MADISON – Gov. Jon Corzine's campaign thought they were well positioned to win re-election against former U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie leading right up to Election Day, Democratic State Chairman Joseph Cryan (D-Union) said today at a joint event with his Republican counterpart, Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains) at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
"Candidly, we thought we were going to win. We had numbers that showed on the Sunday before the election that we were in a position to win," said Cryan who, along with Webber, is also an assemblyman.
Cryan made the point in response to a question from FDU pollster and political science professor Peter Woolley about whether the Democratic Party abandoned Corzine. Although there were clearly base problems and the unaffiliated vote went heavily for Christie, the loss did not result in part from party leaders scuttling the campaign, as some have suggested after looking at the anemic turnout from the state's Democrat-rich urban voting districts.
"We ran a campaign that appealed to the Democratic core in the hopes it would bring folks forward," Cryan said. "Certainly we tried very hard to inspire the new Obama voter, who clearly needed more inspiration than we could provide."
Cryan said that the campaign had trouble cutting through with their message. Corzine had provided real tax relief, he argued, but it didn't live up to the campaign promise of "40 in 4" he made in 2005.
"You might have heard us mention more than once that we had the most property tax relief in history. It's not a lie — we did. But nobody believed it," he said.
Webber argued that Corzine's appeal to their base on mammograms, abortion and guns did not work because the election above all a referendum on Corzine's four years in office.
"There's no one element of the campaign or election season that this is the reason why or that is the reason why. It is both a referendum on the incumbent and I think a real vote of confidence for our new governor," he said.
Webber said that Christie's victory showed that conservatives can win in traditionally Democratic states like New Jersey, though he stopped short of saying that it signifies a conservative resurgence in blue states.
Christie, Webber said, did not run away from questions on hot button social issues. But he didn't emphasize them.
"You have your conservative principles and beliefs. You don't back away from them or try to explain them – you defend them when you have to. But you talk about those kitchen table issues that voters care about," he said. "Certainly, Chris demonstrated that pro-life, pro-traditional family, pro-voucher, pro-tax cut Republican can win in New Jersey."
Although Cryan did not think the intra-party fight between Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland) and his likely successor, Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford), had a drastic effect on the election results, he admitted that it was an "inside baseball distractions for a guy like me" and ate up precious newspaper coverage.
"I didn't read at any point in the election about renegade Republicans, that I can recall… that's a credit to Jay and a credit to the campaign," he said. "Obviously, any time we were talking about something other than the gubernatorial, we were off message."
Webber, for his part, said the Democratic leadership struggle was a "symptom of the Democratic Party in New Jersey" going too far to please its major constituent groups without offering any new ideas.
"You can only take that model so far," said Webber. "You got to the point where there was nothing new being offered by Jon Corzine or the Democratic Party. The knock on Christie was there was no plan, but when you listened to Jon Corzine you didn't really hear anything either."
For Cryan, however, there was an overarching them to the election. Corzine's approval ratings were mired in upside-down territory, and they scarcely improved throughout the race.
"Frankly, we were stuck in the 30s… That was the real story of the election," he said.
When asked about redistricting, Webber said that a recent U.S. Supreme Court in North Carolina decision will pave the way to drawing more contiguous districts, making districts in Essex County, southern Bergen County and Passaic County more competitive and "giving Republicans a better chance to win." He also said he expects redistricting to follow population shifts to the southern and western parts of the state.
Both Cryan and Webber occupy what are considered "safe" districts to their respective parties.
Cryan defended having safe districts.
"You need safe districts, because you need to bring forth some ideas," he said, arguing some necessary ideas that are unpopular with certain segments of the population would be hard to propose if all 40 districts were competitive.
On the congressional level, Webber acknowledged that New Jersey was "almost certain" to lose a congressional seat and that it will "almost inevitably lead to pitting one incumbent against another incumbent."
Cryan added that he has one race in mind he looks forward to seeing.
"I'm all for Leonard Lance running against Rodney Frelinghuysen," he said.