Hillary Clinton leads Chris Christie in New Jersey. Sign for 2016?

President Obama beat Mitt Romney in the Garden State by 18 points. Hillary Clinton leads Gov. Chris Christie in his home state by 10 points, but that's down from a 21-point lead in January. 

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) leaves the Capitol in Washington in this Nov. 17, 2014, file photo. He leads likely GOP presidential rivals in the Garden State, but trails in a 2016 matchup with Democrat Hillary Clinton.

In a hypothetical general election matchup Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton would crush Republican Chris Christie in his home state of New Jersey, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton poll.

That’s right, New Jersey. The state where Christie is governor. The state where he was born and grew up and has spent his whole political career.

Ex-Secretary of State Clinton leads Governor Christie in the Garden State by 49 to 39 percent, under the latest Rutgers-Eagleton results. That’s consistent with previous findings from the same pollsters. Clinton has led Christie by double digits for most of 2014.

Perhaps worse for Christie, his New Jersey favorability ratings lag Clinton’s as well. He’s 12 points behind there. Fifty-six percent of state residents have a favorable opinion of Clinton, while 44 percent have a favorable opinion of their governor.

So is this survey bad news for Christie, or what?

We’d opt for “or what." Obviously, it’s not good news for a GOP governor who’s thinking of running for president. But it’s not an awful indication, either.

First off, it’s one poll series and it’s early. People’s feelings about presidential prospects at this stage aren’t fully set. As we noted, Rutgers-Eagleton’s findings here have been stable for most of the year. But just about one year ago, in January 2014, this poll showed Clinton up by 21 points, 55 to 34 percent. So in that context, the current margin is good news for the New Jersey governor. He’s catching up!

Second, he remains New Jersey’s favorite Republican, at least among GOP voters.

Asked who they’d like to see win the nomination, Republican respondents in this poll named Christie 32 percent of the time. Mitt Romney was the only other possible candidate who broke into double-digits, at 10 percent. Jeb Bush, a likely 2016 rival for Christie, only scored 6 percent.

Christie must win the nomination before he can contest the general election. If he trailed other Republicans in his home state, that would indeed have been a poll disaster.

Finally, there’s this cold reality: New Jersey is a Democratic state. No Republican has a realistic shot at winning the state against Hillary Clinton.

Yes, you’d think a Republican who got elected governor might have a shot there. But voters see the presidency as a much more politically polarized office. In 2012, Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney by 18 points in New Jersey. Obama defeated John McCain in the state in 2008 by about the same margin. John Kerry beat George W. Bush there in 2004 by eight points.

A Republican path to victory in 2016 won’t run through New Jersey. Not even if the GOP nominee is the state’s governor.

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