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N.J. GOP sees Corzine as vulnerable
Voter dyspepsia over taxes, favorable polls and a sagging state economy are giving New Jersey’s outnumbered Republicans real hope that they can oust Democratic incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine this fall.
With Republicans also putting up a strong fight in Virginia — the only other state with statewide races this year — party leaders are hoping twin wins can establish the impression that the party is on the comeback trail heading into the 2010 midterm elections.
With former U.S. Attorney Christopher J. “Chris” Christie now the official nominee, Republicans are even worried about setting expectations too high and inviting lethargy on the part of anti-Corzine voters in November.
“There is a very good chance, probably somewhat better than 50-50, that Christie will win this race,” said David Norcross, a Republican National Committee member from New Jersey.
A win would be particularly sweet as Republicans are a declining species in the Garden State, which has been reliably blue in presidential elections since 1992. Democrats outnumber Republicans by 1.75 million to 1.03 million, although 2.41 million state voters have not registered with either party.
The good news for Republicans is that the 46-year-old Mr. Christie has a 24 percentage point lead among independents, as well as a 50 percent to 40 percent lead overall over Mr. Corzine in the latest Quinnipiac University poll. What’s more, popular unhappiness over property taxes and job losses have broken through a media market too often dominated by outlets based in New York City and Philadelphia.
State voters “don’t need sophistication or a lot of news or news analysis to conclude that it is time to throw the ‘ins’ out,” Mr. Norcross said.
On the deep-pocketed other hand, the 62-year-old Mr. Corzine, a former chairman of the Wall Street brokerage power Goldman Sachs, has the personal wherewithal to dominate the ad wars and vastly outspend his rival. He plowed more than $40 million into his campaign to win his first term in 2005, after plunking down $65 million of his personal fortune to win a Senate seat in 2000 in his first try for public office.
Because Mr. Christie has accepted state matching funds, his campaign war chest will be limited to spending a little more than $15 million overall. With just Virginia and New Jersey voting this year, the national Democratic and Republican parties — not to mention private groups and political action committees — are expected to spend freely to tip the race.
Given Mr. Corzine’s unpopularity, the critical question may be how united Mr. Christie’s party will be following his primary win over conservative rival Steve Lonegan, former mayor of the New Jersey town of Bogota. Mr. Lonegan did better than expected in the primary and offered only a qualified endorsement of his rival.
Mr. Lonegan said Mr. Christie “has openly embraced conservatism, and if he continues on that path, all of us should work hard for his election.”
In a bid to mend fences, Mr. Christie has asked Assemblyman Jay Webber, considered a strong Reagan conservative acceptable to Lonegan backers, to serve as state Republican Party chairman.
“No Republican can win statewide without the support of Steve Lonegan primary voters,” said New Jersey political analyst Alan Steinberg.
Added former New Jersey Republican Party Chairman Tom Wilson, “Christie will need 90 percent of the Republican vote, including a substantial chunk of Lonegan voters.”
Even Democrats agree the Republicans must present a unified front to have any chance in the state.
About the Author
Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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