Thursday, October 22, 2009

What to Watch for in the New Jersey Gubernatorial Race

This race has definitely been turning in every direction possible. In the begining of 2009, Republican Chris Christie had a small lead. In the summer, Christie was leading easily and now, it looks like an extremely close race. I have seen a few suggestions that Corzine should win by two to three points. I actually have to agree with them. The main question I plan to address in this diary is what to watch for on election night. I am not planning to address campaign strategies, it will only be what you should watch in each county while the votes are reporting. I know a Gubernatorial election is extremely different from a Presidential election. It does not matter if Corzine or Christie wins the swing counties, it matters who racks up the most votes. For example, if Corzine won all the swing counties, it could require only a shift of a few votes to win them all. However, the swing counties determine how well Christe, Corzine and Independent Chris Daggett are doing in parts of New Jersey. During this diary, I will split New Jersey into four geographical areas. They are Southern New Jersey, Central New Jersey, Northern New Jersey and Urban New Jersey. The counties in Southern New Jersey are Burlington, Ocean Counties and all the counties south of them. The counties in Central NJ are Monmouth, Mercer, Hunterdon, Somerset and Middlesex. Urban New Jersey is Union, Essex and Hudson Counties. All the other counties are in Northern New Jersey.

Southern New Jersey
This area leans Democratic in most elections. I believe that Christie should beat Corzine here for a few reasons: Corzine tends to do better than average in urban areas but below average in suburban areas. Southern New Jersey is mostly suburban except for Camden County which has 517,000 people. Southern New Jersey has more white voters and more independents than the rest of the state and Christie should do well with these groups. If Daggett grows stronger, southern New Jersey should be one of his strongholds. He goes to Ocean County every summer but then again, so do many other New Jersey residents. The only solid stronghold Corzine has here is Camden County which he won 60% of the vote in 2005 and Obama won 67% of the vote there in 2008. Camden County is 63% White, just above the 62% White population of NJ. Therefore, I believe that Corzine needs to beat Christie in Camden by more than 15 points if Corzine wants to win. To do that, Corzine needs to maximize minority turnout but also win over middle class white voters in the Camden suburbs. Other counties in Southern Jersey are mostly swing counties except for Ocean County which is going solidly for Christie due to all the Conservative retirees there. Cape May County should also go the same way. Salem County is a small rural county which Obama barely won but Christie should win due to its working class voters. If Corzine were sucessful with white working class voters in Camden County, he would win Gloucester County which demographically is Camden County without the heavily Democratic city Camden and its close in suburbs. Cumberland County with Vineland is 53% White with large numbers of Hispanics and African Americans. Due to the large minority population, Christie should fail to win this county where Obama won 60% of the vote. If Christie wins Cumberland County, expect Christie to be moving to Trenton and Corzine moving back to Hoboken. Burlington County which gave Obama 59% of the vote seems to be one of the three big bellweathers. Even though it voted 2 points more for Obama than the rest of the state, the population is 72% White. Most of the white voters are the working class voters Corzine needs to win over along the Pennsylvania border from Salem County to Trenton. The other bellweather county is Atlantic County. In one sense, it is completely different from most of New Jersey. It represents beach communities while New Jersey has some nice beaches New Jersey is basically a suburb, not a beach resort or a gambling capital. Obama won 57% of the vote here, Corzine in 2000 won 50%, in 2005 Corzine won 53%. These percentages are also the percentages of the respective candidates statewide wins. Demographically, Atlantic County is like the rest of New Jersey. The population is 62% White, the same as New Jersey. Also, there is a correct balance between urban and suburban. Atlantic County has Atlantic City as the urban area, some suburban mainland communities and some rural areas in the Pine Barrens. This relates to New Jersey as a whole because there are urban areas in Essex and Hudson Counties with suburban counties further out and a few rural areas. Since Christie appears more popular on the shore, I could see him winning Atlantic County by one or even two points but still losing. This is why I believe that if Corzine wins Atlantic County, he wins the Governorship.

Central New Jersey
I will start with Mercer County where Trenton, New Jersey's capital is located. With heavily African American Trenton and Princeton University, Chrisite has absolutely no chance winning in Mercer County. John McCain even failed to win a single municipality in Mercer County which explains why he won only 31% of the vote here. There are some working class voters here but not as many as the other Delaware River counties. Corzine's percentage should drop below Obama's because Corzine will not get Obama's boost of African American and University turnout even though Obama's recent visit may help a bit. To hold down Chrisite, Corzine needs to beat him here 3:2 and if Corzine can do that, this shows he was able to bring Democrats out to the polls. Monmouth County along the shore is 77% White with a mix of Conservatives and middle class voters should be an easy win for Christie and his Lieutenant Governor candidate Kim Guadango who lives there. This area is possibly strong Daggett territory so if Daggett gets more than 20% of the vote here, expect Christie to be in trouble. Hunterdon County is a high income Conservative area where Christie needs to slow down Daggett's advances. Somerset County should be watched carefully. It has high income voters and Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 lost the county. Somerset County definitely has been trending Democratic with Obama winning 52% of the vote and Somerset County barely trended toward Bush from 2000 to 2004, even with 9/11. Corzine's sucess as a businessman may appeal to the high income voters but Chrisite's close proximity in western Union County and the independent streak of the voters should give Somerset County to Christie. Daggett has a chance to overperform here among all the independents so if Christie can carry Somerset County by more than 15 points, he definitely has won. Christie can still win with a few less votes here. Middlesex County is 53% White. It does not have a singificantly high African American or even Hispanic population, Middlesex County is 19% Asian. Middlesex County is not the most important county in New Jersey but Corzine should try to keep his margin at about 10 points.

Urban New Jersey
This is the smallest area I designated in New Jersey. There is a fair argument for including Passaic and Bergen Counties but most of those counties are suburban. Hudson, Essex and Union County are all expected to go for Corzine and Daggett should win few votes in these areas because independents are less abundant here. Also, an important group are Hispanics who are 41% of the population in Hudson County. Corzine has not cracked down harder on immigrants but he has not pushed to help them. Christie however does not address immigration directly on his website. Corzine does not either but he does address diversity, has worked to improve health care for minorities and he started a panel that discussed immigration reform. Since Christie and Daggett represent the more Conservative suburban voters, I do not see them making inroads in Hudson County. Corzine lives in Hoboken which is a really nice Liberal town filled with transplants from Manhattan. Corzine has always overperformed in Hudson County, winning 75% of the vote there in 2005 in his sucessful Gubernatorial race against Republican Douglas Forrester. Corzine won 53% of the vote, like John Kerry but Kerry won 67% of the vote in Hudson County, much worse than Corzine. Another county to watch is Essex County which contains Newark and is heavily Democratic. Christie should make few inroads there due to its large minority population. Corzine would at least need to receive about 60% of the vote there if he wants to win. Union County is probably the most crucial county in Urban New Jersey. It is basically Essex County in the east and Somerset County in the west. Even though it is Christie's home county, Corzine should still win it due to margins in Elizabeth. If Christie can pull it close in his home area, it shows he is winning overall. This is why Christie needs to hold Corzine below a 10 point win in Union County.

Northern New Jersey
Except for Passiac County and possibly Bergen County, Christie looks set to sweep this area. Warren and Sussex Counties are both heavily Republican and lightly populated so Christie should have no trouble winning them. Morris County also looks like a set Christie win because Morris County is traditionally Republican and McCain won 54% of the vote there. The issue for Christie in Morris County is that Daggett should be able to garner votes there. During the election, I expect Christie's and McCain's percentages to remain similar and if Christe beats Corzine by more than 20 points, Christie's percentage in Morris County should be near McCain's. If Christie wins Morris County by less than 20 points, it will show Daggett made inroads or Corzine overperformed so Christie needs to win by more than 20 points. Passaic County is the only county in northern New Jersey that Corzine looks set to win. If Corzine does not win Passaic County, it will demonstrate he failed to increase turnout in the central cities and therefore he will lose. I believe if he is reelected, he will have won Passaic County by six points or more. In 2000, Corzine won Passaic County by eight points and won the Senate seat by three. Passaic County includes heavily Hispanic Paterson but also some Republican suburbs which are outnumbered by Democratic areas. The real county to watch is Bergen County. Obama won 54% of the vote, 3 points less than his 57% statewide win. Corzine lost the county by three points in 2000. The White population is above average for New Jersey. On paper, it appears that Corzine can lose Bergen County but still beat Christie. I would agree except the Lieutenant Gubernatorial candidate is Loretta Weinberg who is from Bergen County. Weinberg is 74 years old but neither Christie nor Daggett has made her age an issue. She represents that 37th Legislative district which is mostly in southeastern Bergen County, a Democratic area. Someone running for Lieutenant Governor should not have the biggest influence on the voters but Weinberg has been in Bergen County politics since Gerald Ford was president. She was elected in 1975 to countywide office and has remained in Bergen County politics since. Her problem is that party bosses are not crazy about her but that should not impact Bergen County as much as other counties. If Weinberg had a large effect on the campaign, Corzine could win Bergen County and still lose to Christie but if Weinberg's effect was minimal, Corzine could lose Bergen County but still beat Christie.

Here are the last words: If you look at the final map and see Corzine won a line of counties stretching from Bergen to Cumberland, Corzine has won. Also, ask yourself; is Christie pulling up large margins along the shore, is there large turnout in Urban New Jersey, how heavily is Union County swinging towards Corzine, who is leading in Bergen County and how large is Corzine's margin in Camden County?

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