Independent candidates rarely fare well in New Jersey. In Garden State gubernatorial races, none has ever finished with more than 5 percent of the vote. This year, that might change. Chris Daggett, a former EPA administrator running as an independent, has the support of 12 percent of likely voters, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. And, to the chagrin of Republican candidate Chris Christie (who holds a slim lead in most polls over incumbent Democratic governor Jon Corzine), Daggett is making a hard sell to the very conservatives that Christie needs to eke out a win.
Plus, Daggett is quickly becoming the darling of the Trenton press corps, particularly after his able performance during the last week’s televised debate. “The little-known independent . . . all but stole the show,” the New York Times reported. “Daggett was the winner of this debate by a large margin,” wrote one Newark Star-Ledger columnist. “Daggett for guv? Why not?” asked the Trentonian.
Daggett, who once served as deputy chief of staff to former GOP governor Tom Kean, tells NRO that he, not Christie, is proposing policy ideas that appeal to conservatives. “My fiscal policies are, in many respects, more conservative,” says Daggett. “We’re going to cut taxes, lower expenses, and, in the beginning, balance the tax system to make it a lot fairer than it is today.”
How will Daggett do it? “We’ll give a 25 percent property-tax cut for everybody in New Jersey up to a maximum of $2,500,” he says. “We’re going to have a corporate-income tax cut for small businesses — they are the backbone of our economy. We’ll also be able to have a reduction in some sales taxes. We’ll do that by expanding our sales tax — not increasing it — but expanding it to a broader array of services to reflect the new economy, which is a more of a service-based economy. A goods economy is not what we are as much anymore, and that’s what the sales tax was originally based around.”
Christie, for his part, argued during last week’s debate that Daggett’s plan to “expand” the state sales tax is nothing more than a tax increase for a state that’s already the most heavily taxed in America.
How about other issues? “I’m probably socially moderate to liberal,” says Daggett, who is pro-choice and supportive of gay marriage. “On the fiscal side, I’m probably more conservative — but not so much that I’m anti-government.”
With 30 days until Election Day, Daggett has little chance of winning; but as the polls tighten, he could become the Christie campaign’s worst nightmare: an appealing independent with nothing to lose. It’s now up to Christie to offer a detailed tax-cut plan to quiet his critics and win back conservatives charmed by Daggett’s sunny personality, funny one-liners, and tax-cut promises.