With two days to go before voters elect New Jersey’s next U.S. senator, a new poll shows Republican Steve Lonegan continues to gain ground on Democrat Cory Booker. But will it be enough?
In the latest Monmouth University poll Booker leads Lonegan by 10 percentage points, but People’s Pundit Daily has kept this race “Leans Democrat” for a reason, and it is now confirmed inside the numbers.
In 2009, for comparison, Monmouth University — in conjunction with Gannett — had former Gov. John Corzine leading Chris Christie in the gubernatorial race. I had a small inkling then that Christie was going to win, because New Jersey voters do not like having politicians take their vote for granted. Similarly, Democracy Corps had Corzine with a 4-point lead, but we all know how that race ended (but just in case you don’t, it was Christie +4.3, a lead he never held in polling).
When polling the New Jersey Senate race, Booker held a 16-point advantage over the summer in the Monmouth University poll, which fell to 12 points as recently as two weeks ago, and now we are where we are today.
“Concerns about Cory Booker’s intentions to serve New Jersey continue to persist and his favorability ratings continue to drop,” Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said in a statement. “At the same time, voters clearly prefer Booker’s political views over Lonegan’s. The message seems to be that Garden State voters don’t like to feel that their support is being taken for granted.”
I couldn’t agree with Patrick Murray more.
The candidates spent the weekend criss-crossing the state, but take a look at Booker’s campaign roster over the weekend and it is clear that Democrats do not feel as if this race is all sown up, either.
Sunday, Booker was joined on the trail by Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), the chair of the Democratic National Committee, and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). The three heavyweights made stops in Wood-Ridge, Elizabeth, Plainfield and Parsippany.
Booker said Lonegan is a Tea Party “extremist” — pointing out that he supports the federal government shutdown and wants to roll back the Affordable Care Act.
“We know in New Jersey that he is not in the mainstream of where we stand,” Booker said at a rally of Hispanic Democrats in Elizabeth. “So, this election is clear. We have an opportunity with our voices to send a message that will resonate all throughout our country: That we in New Jersey reject shutdown politics. We reject Tea Party politics.”
Rhetoric is rhetoric, and because this is expected to be a low turnout election, we should take polling with a grain of salt and simply look at where Steve Lonegan needs to run up the margins if he hopes to pull off a victory. Below is a county-by-county map of New Jersey shaded in red for the counties won by Gov. Chris Christie in 2009.
There are three big Democratic counties — Bergen, Essex, and Hudson in order of vote share — in which Lonegan must either hold down Booker’s margin or benefit from low turnout. The northeastern area is solid Democratic territory, which includes Bergen County, where Christie was able to hold Corzine to a measely 2-point margin, or approximately 127,386 to 121,446 votes.
Just southwest of Bergen is the small but heavily populated Essex County, where low turnout is Lonegan’s only hope to keep the damage minimal, because even Christie got clobbered in 2009 by 30 points, or 122,640 votes for Corzine to 50,240 for Christie.
Next to Essex and southeast of Bergen is Hudson County, which again, was a wash for Christie who won just 30,820 to Corzine’s 82,075, or a rough 36 percent margin.
Lonegan must run up the margins in traditional Republican central Jersey counties, such as Monmouth, Ocean and Morris, with Monmouth County being the largest potential vote holder for Steve Lonegan. Gov. Christie took Monmouth County garnering 129,039 votes (62.24 percent), Ocean with 124,238 (65.73 percent), and Morris with 99,085 (60.04 percent). From Lonegan’s campaign schedule over the weekend, any observer can see he is well aware of where he needs to win big and where he needs to stay competitive.
Lonegan campaigned in Holmdel Sunday, which is in Monmouth County, at the “Million Vet March.” He also met with several groups that are part of his campaign’s church and synagogue coalitions, including members of the Jewish community in Lakewood Township in Ocean County, and evangelicals in Sparta, which is in the other semi-large Republican-voting Sussex County. A point worth noting, is that Lakewood is home to a very large population of Hasidic Orthodox Jews, who do not poll, whatsoever. This could be a huge boon to Lonegan if he made real headway with that community.
A simple comparison of Christie’s performance with Steve Lonegan’s strategy, and he doesn’t look to be too much of a long-shot anymore, which certainly explains the high-profile Democratic visits over the weekend. Of course, the political stars have to align right, but it is not unheard of in New Jersey, as some in the media would have you believe. The votes for a Steve Lonegan victory are there, and so is a precedent for badly conducted polling surveys in New Jersey.
In fact, if there was one race this cycle that could provide onlookers with an entertaining meltdown of liberal pundits on primetime news, this would be it. Here are a few things to watch for on Election Night.
1. I didn’t discuss Camden County above, because it is not a swing area, but it is the most urban county in New Jersey. Corzine beat Christie in Camden by 14 percent, and Lonegan must hold Booker to a similar level, or really run up huge margins in central and other southern counties in New Jersey. Booker will win Camden, but the question is: by “how much”?
2. Gloucester County consists of the same demographics as Camden County, minus the inner-city. Watching the State’s numbers here will provide us with a better idea of how Lonegan is running with suburban whites. They will be key to his ability to hold Booker’s margin down in and around traditional Democratic strongholds. Christie won the county by 6 percent, but the county narrowly voted for President Obama, twice.
3. Atlantic County is typically a state bellwether, due to the fact that it is roughly 1 point less white than the state as a whole. Atlantic County will tell us how well Steve Lonegan has managed to turnout his base.
4. If Atlantic tells us about base turnout for Steve Lonegan, then Mercer will tell us how well Cory Booker has done his job. Christie lost Mercer County by 16 points, which was far better than the last two GOP presidential candidates ran against President Obama.
5. Without bogging everyone down in the weeds — because I haven’t already, I guess — I stress the importance of Bergen County, as it is Booker’s best chance to stop an unexpected loss that could result from high turnout in central and southern New Jersey, while a disastrous turnout for Booker in the aforementioned Democratic strongholds could leave him stunned.
6. I lived in central New Jersey for years. Monmouth and Ocean Counties are home to hundreds of thousands of practical voters. They voted for Bill Clinton and Chris Christie. They hate debt and work very hard. They are also on the precipice of a sad meltdown of the traditional family and economic malaise. If there was an area of the country where voters were registered Democrats because they still hold on tight to their Reagan Democrat identity, it is here. It is these voters Booker speaks to when he accuses Steve Lonegan of extremist Tea Party tendencies. Let’s watch very closely to see if it works.