New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the outspoken Republican, would beat all likely challengers if a vote for his re-election were held tomorrow, according to a new poll. Still, that won’t ensure an easy win next November.
Democrats hold a 3-2 edge among registered voters. The state hasn’t elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1972 and went for the Democrat in the past six presidential votes. Christie’s 2009 ouster of Democrat Jon Corzine was the first time a Republican won the governor’s office since 1997.
Yet riding a wave of goodwill from his handling of storm damage from Sandy, Christie led his nearest potential Democratic challenger, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, 53 percent to 35 percent, a survey released today by Quinnipiac University shows. Maurice Carroll, director of the school’s polling institute, said the governor has a strong position heading into an election year.
“In New Jersey, voters make us work for our victories,” said Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, a Republican from Little Silver who described the governor’s recent approval ratings as “rock star” numbers.
“It’s never a walk in the park in New Jersey,” O’Scanlon said. “You have to earn things here. That’s good.”
A large enough win by Christie may boost Republican lawmakers and give the party a shot at picking up seats or even gaining control of either the Senate or Assembly, O’Scanlon said. Democrats now run both, by 24-16 and 48-32, respectively.
Christie has risen in voter surveys since Sandy inundated much of the state’s coastline Oct. 29 and left 38 dead. In a Quinnipiac poll last week, 95 percent rated Christie’s handling of the disaster good or excellent. It showed him with a 72 percent approval rating, its highest ever for a governor. Before the storm, Christie led Booker by 4 percentage points.
In the days after Sandy, national Republican figures knocked Christie’s praise for President Barack Obama’s storm aid. The governor raised money and campaigned for Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The New Jersey leader has also pledged to work with Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation, including Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez.
Voters showed their support for his bipartisan approach in two earlier surveys, such as a Nov. 21 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll in which 67 percent viewed him favorably.
“It’s a rally-around-the-flag syndrome right now,” said Brigid Harrison, who teaches law and government at Montclair State University. “Over the next days, weeks and even months, you’ll see a Democrat emerge and start to look for chinks.”
Democrats said they favored Booker in a primary matchup by 41 percent over four other potential candidates, including state Senator Richard Codey, who got the next-highest support at 12 percent in the Quinnipiac poll released today. Codey served as governor for 14 months after James McGreevey resigned in 2004. The list also included state Senator Barbara Buono, Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald and Democratic State Chairman John Wisniewski, an Assemblyman from Sayreville.
“Is this good for him? You bet,” Carroll said of Christie in an interview in Trenton. “Is it a guarantee that he can move in for another four years? No. But it’s likely.”
Missed revenue targets may give Democrats an opening to exploit. Collections must rise 9.9 percent for the next eight months to meet his budget goal of an 8.4 percent increase in tax receipts from the previous year, according to the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services. For the first four months of fiscal 2013, the rise was 3.4 percent, state figures show.
“The revenue shortfall is a serious story that’s going to have serious implications if we are several hundred millions of dollars out of balance come January,” Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville, said Nov. 26. “The possibility of midyear budget cuts is very real.”
Christie is unlikely to hold the commanding position he now enjoys, Carroll said. He said the governor’s favorable numbers probably will revert to his historic average. In four previous 2012 polls, he averaged 55 percent. About a fifth of New Jersey voters will always back Democrats, Carroll said.
Since taking office in January 2010, Christie has won overhauls of pensions and health care for state workers, as well as a property-tax cap from the Democrats who run the Legislature. He has shouted down a Navy SEAL and other detractors at his signature town-hall style meetings.
Democrats hold an advantage of almost 703,000 registered voters over Republicans in the state. Independents make up almost half the electorate, at 2.62 million outnumbering both major parties.
Booker, 43, is midway through his second four-year term as mayor of the state’s largest city. A graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School, he entered the national spotlight when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg pledged $100 million to help improve city schools.
After crisscrossing New Jersey with Obama weeks earlier, and providing the state with updates on everything from restoring power to rebuilding boardwalks, Christie said the need to finish the recovery job spurred him to seek re-election.
“It would be wrong for me to leave now,” Christie told reporters Nov. 26 in Port Monmouth, referring to the state’s post-Sandy rebuilding needs. “I love this place. I’ve lived here all my life and I want to leave it better than it was.”
Republicans applauded Christie for making the right moves.
“The governor showed people he was a strong leader and also that he was compassionate about their needs and their concerns,” said state Senator Tom Kean, the chamber’s Republican chief from Westfield. “I believe that will translate into victory. Anybody who knows Chris, and anybody who works with him, knows that we’ll work day in and day out to make that victory a reality.”
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