In recent years, statewide races in New Jersey have been a constant tease for Republicans. It seems that every cycle there are multiple polls showing the Republican candidate in a close race, but when the smoke clears the Democrat wins walking away. This time the polls not only show the Republican running close; they show him in the lead:
The governor wins handily in a [Democratic primary — bf] trial heat against an assortment of obscure contenders, picking up 59%, while none of the potential challengers picks up more than 2%. But more than a third of Democrats (36%) are undecided even given that undistinguished field and many of those migrate when given other choices. Democrats asked to choose between Corzine and Senate Majority Leader Richard Codey pick Corzine by 51% to 32% with 17% undecided. Asked to choose between Corzine and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, they pick Corzine by 54%-23%.
Indeed, in a trial heat against the leading Republican contender, Corzine trails former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie by 32%-41%. In that heat, 73% of Republicans line up behind Christie, while just 55% of Democrats line up behind Corzine. “When budgets are cut, public employees laid off, and taxes are in danger of being raised, lots of people think twice about their support for the incumbent,” said Woolley. “The governor’s own majority coalition is his biggest challenge.”
The governor bests other Republican contenders though not necessarily with ease. He comes out just ahead of former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan by 36%-32%. He beats Assemblyman Rick Merkt 37%-28% and beats Mayor Brian Levine 38%-27%, with the rest unsure.
New Jersey Republicans have an opening, but a lot will depend on the political environment come November. If voters have soured on Democrats by then — a tall order in a blue state like New Jersey — they seem likely to have a real opportunity if Corzine wins renomination. But they’ll have to choose a nominee — and it seems that the choice may come down to Steve Lonegan — a Reagan conservative from a small town, whose views may to the right of most Garden State voters — and Chris Christie — a former US Attorney and the frontrunner in the race.