New Jersey governor's race: Obama’s 11th-hour pitch for Corzine

Corzine, the incumbent, is neck and neck with the Republican challenger in the New Jersey governor's race. Obama will make two appearances with Corzine Sunday.

John O'Boyle/The Star-Ledger/AP
New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine shakes hands during a visit to a senior citizen housing building operated by New Community Corporation in Newark, N.J. Friday.

President Obama returns to New Jersey on Sunday for two campaign appearances with Gov. Jon Corzine (D), who is locked in a dead-heat race for reelection.

The average of the latest polls shows an exact tie between the top two contenders – 41.5 percent each for Governor Corzine and Republican challenger Chris Christie. Independent candidate Chris Daggett, a former Republican, is pulling an average 12.3 percent.

Analysts tend to believe that Mr. Daggett takes more votes away from Mr. Christie than from Corzine and could thus swing the election to Corzine.

Daggett, a former regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, allows Democratic and Democratic-leaning independent voters unhappy with Corzine to vote against him without supporting a Republican.

Typically, however, third-party challengers fade as Election Day nears. If that happens, the question is where those Daggett voters go.

“Usually, it’s the challenger who benefits,” says Cliff Zukin, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

In a race with an incumbent, “you’ve seen that candidate for four years, so if you can’t commit to that candidate, it’s really saying you’d rather not have him,” Mr. Zukin says.

A Zogby International poll released Friday shows that only 34 percent of likely voters want to see Corzine reelected. Overall, the Zogby poll has Corzine with 40 percent of the vote, Christie with 39, and Daggett with 14.

New Jersey’s economic woes, high taxation, and a big corruption scandal that broke this past summer – ensnaring allies of Corzine, but not the governor himself – have kept Corzine on the defensive. But the state’s heavy Democratic tilt and a weak campaign by Christie, a former US attorney, could end up saving Corzine.

"This is a bad political environment for an incumbent nationally, but even worse considering New Jersey's enormous budget problems,” writes pollster John Zogby.

“That said, for many voters the incumbent governor may be the lesser of two evils and New Jersey has historically given Democrats the benefit of the doubt," Mr. Zogby continues. "Both Corzine and Christie have been unsparing with their attacks and the surprising rise of Chris Daggett is a testament to how ineffectual both parties have been at appealing to voters.”

For Obama, there’s a risk in pushing so hard at the end for Corzine. (Sunday stops in Camden and Newark are Obama’s second swing for Corzine in less than two weeks.) If the governor goes down, Obama looks ineffectual.

But Obama may feel he has little choice. A Corzine loss, combined with the expected Republican victory in the Virginia gubernatorial election, would give the GOP a sweep of the two governor’s races this fall. That would be a huge morale boost to Republicans going into the 2010 midterm elections.

However, New Jersey is not valid as a bellwether, because the race is about “two very flawed candidates," says Dan Cassino, a political scientist at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, N.J.

“That said, both New Jersey and Virginia wind up being very important,” Mr. Cassino says. “These races are about recruitment.”

In other words, if it looks as if 2010 could be a big Republican year, high-quality GOP candidates will be more likely to jump in, especially in swing states and districts.


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