Is Pallone vulnerable?

As pundits and party leaders look to next year’s Congressional elections in NJ, it appears that freshman Democrat John Adler is the most vulnerable incumbent. Despite actually calling himself a “conservative” Democrat, his vote for ultra-liberal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrat Leadership will render that innoculation strategy suspect, to an electorate that is increasingly alienated from the policies of the current Congress and President Obama.

In fact, voters in Adler’s district overwhelmingly favored Republican Governor-elect Chris Christie in the gubernatorial election, and Adler himself faced a tough challenge, despite out-spending his opponent, having a larger base (legislative district and one-time Congressional candidate vs. a small-town Mayor) and running in the best Democratic year (2008) in at least a generation.

Assuming current trends, and assuming Republicans nominate a strong candidate, Adler is probably a goner.

One of the more intriguing possibilities for Republicans appears to be incumbent Frank Pallone of the 6th district. I know, I know – he’s got $4million in the bank, he’s a long-time incumbent, and very good retail politician. His district leans Democratic, especially because it has significant pockets of minority populations – New Brunswick, parts of Franklin Township in Somerset County, Plainfield, and Asbury Park.

But in my opinion, several factors make Pallone vulnerable. First, the political environment is getting toxic for national Democrats. President Obama’s approval ratings are dipping below 50 percent in some national polls. In NJ, the bloom is off the rose for the President, as independent voters are now evenly-split on his job performance. In fact, NJ’s independent voters are now – at least for the time being – behaviorally “Republican.” This was due in part to Jon Corzine’s vulnerabilities (poor record and personality), but has also been heavily influenced by the national political environment.

And it’s getting worse. The health care debate in Washington keeps turning moderate and swing voters away from Democrats, as votes are brazenly for sale and deficits are soaring, and national affairs are becoming a problem as the President’s handling of Afghanistan is worrying even his own supporters.

This encouraging political environment for Republicans has generated a very strong crop of candidates for Senate and House across the country, as GOP leaders increasingly smell blood. A US Senate seat in New York State might even be in play if Rudy Guiliani takes the plunge, which increasingly appears likely.

If trends continue, Republicans will likely make huge gains in both houses, with a strong possibility of control of both.

Pallone has not “inoculated” himself against any of these dangerous “national” trends or issues, lining solidly behind the Democratic Party line on most issues.

Furthermore, the turnout in 2010 will be the 2nd lowest turnout of any year in the 10-year census cycle, because the House of Representatives will be at the top of the ticket. The only other years with lower turnout are the 2 elections in the 10-year cycle that feature the NJ State Senate at the top of the ticket.

A very low turn-out, especially among minority voters, will mean that the voting electorate will be weighted heaviest toward tax-sensitive swing voters, precisely the voters in the 101.5 radio market that floods this district, and who provided Chris Christie with record margins in Middlesex and Monmouth counties, right in the heart of Pallone country.

Finally, it can be argued that a $4 million warchest will avail him about as much as Jon Corzine’s $35 million campaign did, when you are talking about angry taxpayers who want to send a message to over-spending, over-taxing politicians who appear out of touch. Sound familiar?

For these reasons, it would benefit GOP leaders to start thinking now about strong potential candidates for this district. Is Pallone vulnerable?