It has been twelve years since a Republican won a statewide race in New Jersey — a longer run of GOP losses than in any other state. But recent polls show that Democratic dominance may be coming to an end in the Garden State.
New Jersey’s incumbent governor, Jon Corzine, is trailing Republican challenger Chris Christie by double digits in recent polls. These polls are boosting the spirits of beleaguered Jersey Republicans, but only to a certain degree: The Garden State GOP has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory before. State senator Tom Kean Jr. led Robert Menendez early in the 2006 U.S. Senate race, only to lose by eight points on Election Day. Christie’s support from New Jersey voters has only recently climbed above 50 percent — a threshold that Sean Trende of RealClearPoliticssays is crucial in determining whether or not a statewide Republican victory is possible in New Jersey.
But there are three reasons Christie could win. First, he has events on his side. In mid-July, Christie named Monmouth County sheriff Kim Guadagno as his pick for lieutenant governor. The same week, dozens of New Jersey public officials, including the mayors of Hoboken and Secaucus, were arrested. Christie is a former federal prosecutor, so the Christie-Guadagno ticket has strong law-enforcement credentials at a time when recent arrests are bringing attention to corruption, a chronic state problem. In fact, Christie himself initiated the probe that led to the arrests, lending real weight to his argument that he is a true corruption-fighter.
Second, the New Jersey race will most likely be decided on the basis of conditions within the state, meaning that Corzine can’t benefit from Obama’s popularity. A mid-July poll indicated that three in four likely voters see their ballots as a way to show their feelings about state and local issues alone. And though the president recently traveled to New Jersey to stump for the governor, it’s doubtful he provided much of a boost for Corzine; around seven in ten likely voters said that Obama’s campaigning would have no impact on their choice.
Last, and perhaps most important, independents are siding with Christie by a substantial margin. The aforementioned poll indicates that Christie holds a 23-point lead over Corzine among independent voters (47 percent to 24 percent).
This is remarkable, because President Obama won New Jersey independents less than a year ago (51 percent to 47 percent). One potential reason for the shift: Only 13 percent of New Jersey independents think that Corzine has “major accomplishments,” while 34 percent say that he has “no real accomplishments to point to.”
The same pattern of independent support for the Republican candidate appears in the early polls in the Virginia gubernatorial race. (Virginia is the only other state holding a gubernatorial election in 2009.) A July release from Public Policy Polling notes that, among voters who don’t consider themselves Democrats or Republicans, 54 percent support Republican Bob McDonnell while only 33 percent support Democrat Creigh Deeds.
Even though the New Jersey race will hinge more on state than national issues, the fact that independent support is shifting strongly towards the Republican candidates in both New Jersey and Virginia perhaps indicates that recent Democratic dominance in those states, or in Washington, may not be as solid as it seems.
– Jennifer Marsico is a research assistant with the Political Corner at the American Enterprise Institute.