Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
It seemed certain heading into the year that Chris Christie, the former U.S. attorney who has convicted more than 100 New Jersey politicians, would be the Republican nominee against Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine this fall. But Christie is suddenly looking a lot less like a sure thing.
A Quinnipiac poll released last week that showed Corzine scoring the highest disapproval rating of any New Jersey governor in its history also found that Christie holds only a single-digit lead over Steve Lonegan, a former Bogota mayor and his main opponent in the June primary. A Strategic Vision poll showed Christie with a much healthier lead.
Lonegan has released an internal poll showing the race dead even, but since no politician ever releases an internal poll with bad news that should be greeted with plenty of skepticism.
Still, the Christie-Lonegan race presents a familiar-looking set of political dynamics. Christie is the establishment candidate who has locked up all the money and the endorsements. The various polls show that he stands a better-than-even chance of beating Corzine, against whom the little-known Lonegan would struggle.
But the Christie campaign stands accused of resting on its laurels, holding onto its money and not getting out and motivating volunteers or exciting voters with a fresh message.
Lonegan is presenting himself as the more conservative/outsider choice. He's using Joe the Plumber as a fundraising/recruiting tool, cleverly giving nominally expensive event tickets to their May 5 rally to people who make lots of voter contacts for him.
More importantly, suggests GOP consultant Bill Pascoe on our sister site CQ Politics, Lonegan has the more compelling message. Lonegan's constant hammering away at taxes and the economy is what voters want to hear, Pascoe writes, while Christie ineffectively seeks adulation for his days as a crusading prosecutor:
Voters in New Jersey are inured to corruption.
They accept it like their morning coffee.
Running as a corruption-busting former U.S. Attorney just isn't likely to win a general election in New Jersey in 2009.
One sure sign that Christie is feeling some heat is a radio ad campaign he launched a few days ago, attacking Lonegan as a serial political loser.
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