By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The New Jersey gubernatorial race is coming down to the wire with no clear winner in sight.
The latest polling shows the race narrowing significantly, with the Republican challenger, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, now leading incumbent Democrat Gov. Jon Corzine by just one point.
Part of the reason the race appears so close is the presence on the ballot of Chris Daggett, a liberal Republican turned independent who once worked for former GOP Gov. Tom Kean. Most analysts consider Daggett, currently polling at somewhere around 13 percent, a spoiler, someone who could draw enough regular Republican votes away from Christie to allow Corzine to squeak back into the governor's mansion by a nose.
While there's plenty of polling data to suggest this might be the case, the spoiler analysis looks more to be a matter of wishful thinking on the part of Democrats hoping against hope that Corzine, whose unfavorable rating is almost 60 percent, can still win.
The movement in the polls toward Daggett appears to be the outcome of Corzine's well- and self-funded negative ad blitz against Christie, which attacks him for everything from his position on the issues to his driving record and his weight. Corzine's objective in running these ads is to split the 60 percent of New Jersey's electorate that is anti-Corzine into two camps—one centered on Christie, the other following Daggett.
By driving Christie's negatives up, the Corzine strategists seem to think they can drive enough voters to Daggett that the 40 percent of the electorate still backing Corzine is enough to eke out an Election Day victory—or at least keep it close enough that Corzine's lawyers and the judges can give it to him after a post-election court challenge.
The problem with this strategy is that it almost never, ever works, and for a simple reason: The voters want the incumbent (in this case Corzine) out more than they want either of the two candidates running against him in.
My friend Rich Galen, who writes the Mullings.com cyber-column, explained the dynamics of a contest like this to me many years ago. As I recall, it went something like this:
When you're thinking about buying a new car, you go down to the Mercedes dealership to test drive the new models. Then you go over to the BMW dealership and take the Z3 two-seater for a spin. And then you test drive a Corvette and a Land Rover and that neat little Smart Car. But when it comes time to actually buy a new car, when the minivan throws a piston rod and it will cost more to fix it than it is actually worth and the wife is giving you "that look," you go down to the Ford dealership and cut the best deal you can on the car that is most appropriate for your needs.
At least that's the way I remember him telling it to me. The point is that when you have something important to think about and it really doesn't matter what you decide, you're free to explore all kinds of options, no matter how nonsensical they may actually be. When you have to make an important decision, like which car you are actually going to buy or who you are going to vote for in the race for governor, the freedom that fantasy gives you evaporates as reality sets in.
The reality in New Jersey, as expressed in poll after poll after poll, is that Jon Corzine has been a bad governor and the people want him out. There may be a substantial portion of the electorate who say they are for Daggett now, two weeks out from the election—but those voters have already decided to vote against Corzine. Most of them, history tells us, will either end up voting for Christie or staying home.