As goes New Jersey, so go the Democrats?
Watch New Jersey. It could hold the final key to the 1984 Democratic race. If Walter Mondale carries this state on June 5, the battle could be over. Mr. Mondale will have blunted Gary Hart's strong offensive in the closing weeks of the campaign. Mondale's delegate total will climb close to the required 1,967. Analysts say he will be almost certain to win the party's nomination.Skip to next paragraph
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There is, however, another possible scenario. It's one that is keeping this campaign alive, long after the experts thought it would be over. It's a scenario that is making Mondale hurry back to New Jersey again this week, despite his wide lead in the race for delegates.
It goes like this. Mr. Hart ekes out a win in California, where even Mr. Mondale calls the race ''as close as it could possibly be.'' The same day, Hart pulls a stunning upset in New Jersey. Hart would then have won the primaries in the four final major states - Ohio, Indiana, California, and New Jersey. Doubts about Mondale's ''electability'' would mount. The race might then once again be wide open, some analysts suggest.
The hardest part of this equation, however, will be here in the ''turnpike state.'' Even Hart's own campaign team here says he's currently behind. That's why Senator Hart - hoping for a breakthrough - will be here five times in the final three weeks of this campaign.
Is this Hart's kind of state? Hart's own supporters, such as state Democratic Party chairman Jim Maloney, argue that New Jersey voters are similar to those in Connecticut - which went strongly for the Colorado senator.
Mondale backers note that New Jersey lies between New York State and Pennsylvania, which both went solidly for the former vice-president. The truth may lie somewhere in between, and that means the race could be very, very tight.
Millions of Americans, of course, have a rather narrow view of this diverse and prosperous state. It's a picture that is limited to the smokestacks and truck farms lining either side of the 117.4-mile-long New Jersey Turnpike, from the twin spans of the Delaware Memorial Bridge on the south to Newark and New York City on the north.
The ''Pike'' handles an incredible volume of traffic - 143,854,884 cars, trucks, and buses, which carried an estimated 215 million people, last year alone. What those millions of drivers and passengers don't see are the lush, rolling country of northwest New Jersey, the beaches of the eastern shore, the beautiful homes of Lawrenceville, or the Gothic arches of Princeton. ''We took a busload of reporters off the Pike and into the countryside the other day, and they were in awe,'' one Hart worker said with a chuckle.
In fact, this mixture of gritty cities and lush suburbs, smokestacks and ivory towers, old, basic industries and the newest high-tech is what makes New Jersey a fascinating locale for a Hart-Mondale finale. The state gives each man a chance to show off his political muscles.
Throughout this race, Mondale has consistently done better than Hart with certain groups of voters. These include union workers, city dwellers, Roman Catholics, Jews, blacks, older voters, and those with low to middle incomes. Hart gets more the upper-income voters, the young, Protestants, suburbanites, and those in such industries as computers and electronics.