Photographs of Gov. Chris Christie and his family lounging on an empty public beach will likely become the defining image for most New Jersey residents when they recall this week’s government shutdown, likely outweighing the budget snafu or the Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield legislation that caused it in the first place, according to political experts.
Despite the quick and harsh response to the photos by Kim Guadagno, the state’s lieutenant governor and the Republican nominee for governor, the pictures made what was already a tough race for Guadagno a “steeper hill,” according to Ben Dworkin, the director of the Rider University Rebovich Institute for Politics.
“It was tough enough already given how unpopular the governor is, but that image made it that much tougher, even if she criticized it,” Dworkin said. “She can criticize it today but it is less about the picture than a public that clearly disapproves of Chris Christie. Anybody tied to him is going to have the negative residual effect of that.”
In the last Quinnipiac University poll, Christie’s approval rating clocked in at 15 percent, the lowest for any governor in the states Quinnipiac has polled for decades. And that was before the beach escapade. Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray will release a poll on Monday assessing how New Jersey residents feel about Christie in the wake of the government shutdown.
Murray said that, as of now, most voters are not paying much attention to the governor’s race and many still are unaware of Guadagno and her candidacy. However, Murray said, it’s likely that her ties to Christie will become a “heavy burden” if his popularity continues to sink. Polls leading up to the June 6 primaries showed that the Democratic nominee, Phil Murphy, was an unknown quanity to nearly half of voters, too.
On Friday afternoon, Guadagno told NJ.com the state should sell off the governor’s beach retreat.
“She has to explain to voters how she has distanced himself from Chris Christie and convince them of that,” Murray said. “There is no question that Chris Christie is her biggest stumbling block right now.”
But both Dworkin and Murray said it is unlikely that the shutdown will resonate in legislative races, despite efforts from candidates in competitive districts to make it a focal point.
Only four state senators abstained last week from a vote regarding the Horizon proposal that Christie tied to the approval of the state budget. Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Bergen) and Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex), from competitive districts 38 and 14, both opted to abstain.
The Republican challenging Greenstein, Ileana Schirmer, has called the abstention a cop out. On Friday, she issued a statement calling on Greenstein to press the issue of paying workers who were furloughed during the shutdown for the time they missed. Many public workers are concentrated in Greenstein’s district.
“Linda is considered ‘essential staff’ to the state, but she didn’t even vote on the issue that held the budget up and caused the shutdown in the first place,” Schirmer said in a statement.
The Republican challenging Gordon, Kelly Langschultz, also cried foul over his abstention.
“If you were to look at my voting record, you will see that when I oppose a measure, I simply do not vote,” Gordon told Observer. “When I hit the red button, it is to send a signal to the interests behind the measure that I more than disagree.”
According to Dworkin, these issues likely will not be a priority in the November legislative races. Polls show most voters care about issues such as their property taxes or their commute.
“Challengers will certainly use it as an issue to talk about in July,” Dworkin said. “My own sense is that this isn’t going to be one of the top three issues for voters in the fall.”