A new poll of New Jersey from conservative strategist Rick Shaftan finds that the New Jersey gubernatorial race, where Republican former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie has held a strong lead over Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine in most surveys, could now actually be a dead heat.
While most polls have shown Christie with roughly a ten point lead, the new poll shows he takes 39% support to Corzine’s 36%, plus independent candidate Chris Daggett at 6%, with a margin of error of Â±5.49%. A key finding is that both major candidates have negative net favorable ratings — Corzine is at 23% favorable to 46% unfavorable, but Christie is also at only 20% favorable to 27% unfavorable.
“Yeah, I was really surprised at it myself,” Shaftan, who most recently worked for Christie’s primary opponent, told TPM. “The Corzine people have managed to convince people that Christie is dirty.”
Shaftan expects that liberal voters, who currently have fairly high negative views of Corzine, will come home to him in the end. Corzine is himself a big liberal, after all. In addition, Christie’s recent troubles — involving newly-revealed conversations with Karl Rove, which have tied him to the 2007 US Attorney firing scandal and separately about an undisclosed loan he made to Michele Brown, a subordinate in the U.S. Attorney’s office — appear to be taking a toll.Corzine has crafted a decent enough narrative that could carry him through, Shaftan said: “People think he’s kind of a clown or buffoon, they don’t think he’s done anything in office, but at least he’s honest. There are people who say Corzine is a crook, don’t get me wrong, but that theme has kind of penetrated out there.”
At the same time, a negative narrative of Christie appears to have taken hold: “The negatives on Christie overwhelmingly are, people think he’s crooked and slimy.” In other words, while Christie has for years cultivated an image as a straight-laced, independent-minded prosecutor, that’s not the impression most voters have of him. And while no clear conclusions can be drawn from a single poll, it suggests that the recent round of negative press for Christie may be taking a toll.
Shaftan said that the recent stories about Rove and the Michele Brown loan have hurt Christie, “The Rove story, because it really accentuates that he’s a Republican, he’s tied to Bush,” and the loan story, “it just adds to that perception of being dirty and underhanded.”
Shaftan asked an open-ended question of people who viewed Christie negatively, asking them why they felt this way. Among moderate voters, he got answers like this: “He’s shady”; “He’s a crook”; “He’s a liar”; “He’s a jerk”; “He isn’t a moderate Republican, but says he is”; “He’s making promises he can’t keep”; “For Bush”; “The loan he gave”; “He’s trying to be holier than thou, but he’s not,” among others. In addition, there were one or two other answers that weren’t fit for publication.
The negatives on Corzine, however, are more amorphous, having to do with a general feeling that he’s done a bad job and hasn’t accomplished anything, and that the state is still in trouble. But previous negatives against him from last year — that he raised taxes — have faded away.
Shaftan previously did polls and strategy for Steve Lonegan, who was Christie’s opponent in the Republican primary. The new poll was not commissioned by any candidate or party committee, but was paid for by an undisclosed group of business and issue-centered clients. There was no prior poll by Shaftan of the general election, which would provide for a direct comparison of how the recent muck stories about Christie may have affected things.