| Quinnipiac University (7/8-12, likely voters, 6/3-8 in parens):
Jon Corzine (D-inc): 41 (40)
Chris Christie (R): 53 (50)
Undecided: 6 (9)
Optimists like to point out that New Jersey seems to hate all its politicians, but hates Republicans a little bit more. This would explain why the Garden State GOP hasn't won a single statewide race since 1997, and hasn't won by more than a single percentage point since 1985. So it's certainly tempting to think that Jon Corzine might sweat this one out like so many of his Democratic predecessors have.
But this race simply feels different. In particular, the economy - and the deep unhappiness it engenders - weighs more heavily than at almost any time in recent or even distant memory. The traditional unemployment rate is almost 9% in Jersey. Broader measures like the U6 are much worse. Painful budget cuts have been made. And Corzine has also stumbled on his own, like with his series of failed plans involving the always-sensitive issue of turnpike tolls. Like it or not - fair or not - the folks in power get blamed when things go to hell. If you're a guy like Jon Corzine, who didn't start off with high approvals and goodwill to burn, it puts you in a very precarious spot.
Ordinarily, we don't like to move races with unindicted incumbents past "Tossup." But there's nothing ordinary about 2009, or these poll numbers:
If you want to see what a classic "Jersey Dem sweats one out" race looks like, check out this chart of Bob Menendez vs. Tom Kean, Jr. from 2006 (turn off "poll results" to better see the trendlines):
Sure, Menendez definitely started perspiring a bit in September, but he never spent months lagging by double digits. He also benefitted from a good economy and a huge Democratic wave - and he wasn't an incumbent with anemic favorables.
Back in 2009, things have picked up somewhat for Corzine in recent months, but his Republican opponent, Chris Christie, has also steadily improved. And the other internals on this Q-poll are a lot more worrying. Corzine's job approval is at its lowest ever (33-60), his attacks on Christie for being close to Bush don't resonate at all with voters (only 10% call it a "fair criticism"), and the state legislature "generic ballot" is a virtual tie at 45D-43R (in a state where Dems otherwise hold wide margins in the lege).
This, of course, is just one poll - but pick apart any survey and you'll find plenty of bad news. The fact that Corzine leaked an internal allegedly showing him at 38% is perhaps most disturbing of all. Is this supposed to constitute good news? (The fact that no one's seen the full memo is also telling.)
We're also pretty troubled by word that Corzine might tap a reality TV star (yes, you read that right) for the newly-created post of Lieutenant Governor. This is beyond bizarre, and is reminiscent of John McCain picking Sarah Palin as his number two. Let's pray Corzine doesn't go this route - but it's not a heartening sign that he's considering something so gimmicky when he should be picking someone experienced and fit to succeed him if need be.
The one genuinely positive event on the horizon is the rally Obama is doing with Corzine on Thursday. But that's just a one-time event, and given how parsimoniously the President spends his political captial, I doubt Obama's going to attach himself to Corzine at the hip and drag him across the finish line in November.
As I say, this isn't a move we make lightly, but nonetheless we're changing the rating on NJ-Gov to "Lean Republican." This doesn't mean we think Corzine can't stage a comeback, or that Christie has this one in the bag. It simply means that he has the edge right now, something which seems hard to deny at this point. But if that changes, our rating will, too.