N.J. Repub­li­cans ea­ger to oust Corzine as rat­ings slump

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY RALPH Z. HALLOW

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.”

Still, Mr. Corzine is bear­ing the brunt of voter un­hap­pi­ness over taxes and the econ­omy. New Jer­sey’s job­less rate is 8.4 per­cent, still be­low the na­tional av­er­age, but with eight of the state’s top 10 job-pro­duc­ing in­dus­tries re­port­ing de­clines in April.

All polls show that taxes — par­tic­u­larly prop­erty taxes — are by far the top-rank­ing ob­ject of ire among the state’s vot­ers. In 2007, the me­dian prop­erty-tax bill paid in New Jer­sey was $6,082 — the high­est in the na­tion — with New Hamp­shire a dis­tant sec­ond at $4,390.

“The tip­ping point has been reached on taxes, and peo­ple and busi­ness are leav­ing the state in droves.” Mr. Nor­cross says. “Is this Corzine’s fault? Only par­tially.”

None­the­less, the gov­er­nor has been un­able to do any­thing about it be­cause, Mr. Nor­cross ar­gues, “he is po­lit­i­cally in­ept, and the Demo­cratic-dom­i­nated Leg­is­la­ture has ig­nored any at­tempt to se­ri­ously ad­dress the prob­lems.”

“Thus, I think the ex­plo­sion cometh and, with it, in­creased GOP num­bers in the Leg­is­la­ture as well,” Mr. Nor­cross said. “Change has been his­tor­i­cally abrupt in New Jer­sey.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Christo­pher J. “Chris” Christie waves to sup­port­ers of his gu­ber­na­to­rial bid in Whip­pany, N.J., on June 2. Mr. Christie has a 24 per­cent­age point lead among in­de­pen­dents, as well as a 50 per­cent to 40 per­cent lead over­all in the lat­est Quin­nip­iac Uni­ver­sity poll.

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