Monday, September 14, 2009

State of the Race: New Jersey Governor (9/14/09)

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I'm taking a rather surly approach with this update because the narrative in the New Jersey gubernatorial race (that Corzine isn't living up to the typical Democratic electoral comeback in the Garden state) is really getting tiresome. I don't say that as a Corzine fan [FHQ is indifferent.], but rather as someone who is irritable when the same tired and false story of this trend is rolled out. Yes, recently in New Jersey politics there has been a series of elections in which the Republican did better than expected in early polling only to see that position fade down the stretch of the campaign. Mostly when this idea comes up, commentators will bring up the polling in the state from the 2004 presidential election when Bush ran consistently within (less than) 10 points of Kerry. Chris Cillizza (The Fix) at The Washington Post dusted this argument off today and carted it out for all to see and even added the Senate elections in 2000, 2002 and 2006 and the gubernatorial election from four years ago as evidence of this "trend" of Republican surge and decline.

Look, FHQ can't throw stones while living in a glass house. We've certainly done a fair amount of talking about Corzine's cushion among the electorate in a Democratic-leaning state, but we have also tried to caution that for any comeback to take place, the governor is absolutely going to have to emerge from the upper 30s rut he has been stuck in the entire year. [The real danger for Corzine now appears to be the independent candidacy of Chris Daggett, who will reportedly pull in 15% in tomorrow's Public Policy Polling release from New Jersey.] It cannot simply be a matter of Christie's support dropping off.

That said, of the elections Cillizza mentioned as evidence, the 2006 Senate race between Menendez and Kean fits the bill (and I'll have to track down the polling from the 2000 and 2002 races), but the gubernatorial race in 2005 does not. It may have been closer than expected, but at no point during the post-primary period (early June onward) was Republican nominee, Doug Forrester, ahead of the Garden state senator-turned-candidate for governor. In fact, as I have continually pointed out, gubernatorial races in New Jersey have failed to perform to the rubric of this phenomenon in every election stretching back to 1977 when Democrat Brendan Byrne became the last Democrat to pull off the comeback.

Here are the facts of the race currently:
1) Corzine is stuck in a range between about 38% and 42% in recent polling (...meaning FHQ probably has him slightly undervalued in our averaging). This has not changed since 2009 began.

2) Christie has slipped from a summer peak above the 50% mark, but has seemingly settled in to the 44-47% area of late.

3) The new poll out of Monmouth this morning did nothing to change the underlying dynamic of the race.

4) Corzine can come back but the incumbent will have to increase his stock some and continue to hope that Chris Daggett's support goes the way of so many other early fall third party supporters in other electoral arenas (ie: to one of the two major party candidates).

And none of those points is in any way consistent with the September Surge tag that is appended to all of Corzine's Twitter updates within the last few days.

2009 New Jersey Gubernatorial Race Polling
Margin of Error
Monmouth/Gannett [pdf]
Sept. 8-10, 2009
+/- 4.3%
531 likely voters

Again, the Monmouth poll was nothing new. Both candidates fit into the same ranges, but Corzine did lead among the wider, registered voter sample that was surveyed. That means zilch unless Corzine can close the so-called enthusiasm gap (which PPP is set to talk about some more with its release tomorrow) and turn those registered voters who prefer him into actual voters that can help reelect him. That may or may not be a tall order, but with the well-worn upper 30s rut the governor continues to find himself in (see below), it appears that it is.

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State of the Race: New Jersey Governor (9/10/09)

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