As far as competitive elections go it looks like deep blue New Jersey will not have a gubernatorial one. Republican Governor Chris Christie, elected in 2009 by Independents and conservatives worried about the economy, and governing as a moderate, appears poised to blow away his competition. Numerous polling has shown that Christie is well ahead of his only challenger and that has some wondering whether he can help his party down-ballot?
Christie has done wonders for the GOP brand in New Jersey. Underneath his brash and large exterior lies that of a man who will compromise to get what he wants done. In his first term he has held the line on taxes, reformed the state’s pension system and seen the unemployment rate drop well below its 10%+ high in 2009. He also in his confrontations has made allies with the state’s suburban electorate and its conservative base simultaneously. Not an easy feat.
The good Christie has done to the GOP brand in New Jersey is reflected in his reelection numbers, His competition, Mary Buono, has not gained ground on the Governor. Republicans in the legislature are hoping that the Governor will carry some coattails. Both the state Senate and state Assembly are controlled by Democrats. In the Senate the Democrats have a solid 24-16 majority and in the Assembly a 48-32 majority. Since 2007 not a single Democratic incumbent running in the legislature has lost a race. It is this fact the GOP hopes to change.
Christie recently did the state party a huge favor by scheduling the special election for former Senator Lautenburg’s seat to be in October instead of November. The move allows GOP candidates and state lawmakers to avoid being on the ballot with likely Senate Democratic nominee Corey Booker. Of course Christie had his own reasons for making the decision. Christie wants to soundly win reelection and bolster his credentials with moderate to conservative GOP primary voters who are hungry to have any Republican in the White House after Obama.
The state GOP will take what it can get. The party has identified at least seven Assembly and five Senate seats they claim are in play. The GOP is vigorously targeting all the races and outside support from the RNC has also flowed in. For their part state Democrats do not appear to worried. They expect their solid majorities in the Legislature to hold up and Christie to be more conciliatory and bipartisan in his second term.
Both these assumptions are certainly possible. Christie has not had any major successes occur in the last year but since Hurricane Sandy his poll numbers have soared. These numbers helped scare off any tough Democratic competition to his candidacy. Yet Christie’s poll numbers do not have appeared to have bled over to legislative generic ballot numbers. On the generic ballot test Democrats remain solidly ahead of the GOP. Still, Republicans continue to profess confidence that Christie will deliver their candidates some coattails.
In the districts the GOP has targeted even a small percentage of Independents switching to the GOP candidate or fewer Democrats voting could swing a number of races. Individual Democratic lawmakers though say their brands will stand up to any coattails Christie brings. Moreover, they cite the independence of New Jersey voters being on constant display as Democrats have held the legislature since the 80’s while the state has had a Republican Governor for 16 of its last 24 years.
However the first Tuesday of November plays out in New Jersey Chris Christie is sure to be the big winner. And his party may benefit as well.