Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why Cory Booker may want to give the 2013 NJ Governor's race another glance

As survey after survey pours out of New Jersey confirming Chris Christie (R) as one of the most popular Governors in America, the likelihood of popular Democratic mayor Cory Booker entering the 2013 gubernatorial race has dropped.

Once thought to be somewhat vulnerable to a challenge from a strong Democrat, Chris Christie now leads all of his challengers by at least 19 points, including the much hyped, rising Democratic star,  Cory Booker. A new Rutgers-Eagleton poll of New Jersey, taken Nov 14-17, shows the boisterous New Jersey Governor receiving a 19 point bounce in his personal favorability rating following a mega-storm that left millions throughout the northeast stranded and without power. Just one month earlier, before Sandy struck, and 1 month after his keynote speech at the RNC, Christie was barely above water with New Jersey voters. His favorability rating was an unimpressive 48/42%, and more voters said they'd rather NOT reelect him (47-44%). Seven weeks later, and Christie's favorability rating has surged to 67/25%, representing a net 36 point net increase. Now, Voters DO want to see him reelected, 59-32%, and a recent Fairleigh Dickinson poll shows his job approval rating at  77%.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) can also brag about being one of the most popular politicians in NJ, especially when compared to other potential contenders for the Democratic nomination for Governor, and especially considering he is not a statewide office-holder. His NET favorability rating is essentially the same as Gov. Christie's (+41%), while his overall rating is at 52/11%. Despite Booker's widespread appeal and Democratic party affiliation, he still trails the Republican Governor in this bright blue state by double digits. But why? A close look at the Rutgers internal data indicates Chris Christie attracts FAR MORE Democrats in a hypothetical race for Governor against the popular Cory Booker than he did against the UNPOPULAR Jon Corzine in 2009.

Vote by party ID in Christie v. Booker poll compared to Christie v. Corzine exit poll:

At the time of his reelection in 2009, Gov. Corzine's (D) favorability rating had dropped to 40/51%, and he eventually lost to Christie by 4 points, 49-45%. Despite all of this, he still managed 86% of the Democratic vote in 2009, while the popular Booker can only get 59%. Ahhh...the political perks of natural disaster...

But Booker shouldn't be so quick to write-off a 2013 gubernatorial bid. Clearly, Christie is riding a surge of good-feeling in the aftermath of a traumatic natural disaster. But Sandy made landfall less than twenty days ago, and the NJ Governor's race is over 340 days away. It's possible Democrats may still be in a post-Sandy honeymoon phase with Christie one year from now, but is it likely? Probably not. Does anyone really believe that Booker would only get 59% of the Democratic vote in 2013, while the unpopular and scandal-ridden Corzine got 86% in '09? Again, probably not. It is also hard to imagine Booker doing worse with Independents than Corzine, though the poll finds him doing just that. So what would the Rutgers-Eagleton poll look like if we reweighted the Democratic vote to resemble the 2009 Governor's race, all other numbers remaining the same? Would that be enough to give Booker a lead over Christie?

Rutgers-Eagleton Christie v. Booker poll w/ Democratic result reweighted to 2009 exit poll:

Cory Booker (D) would take a 46-44% lead against Gov. Chris Christie (R) for the NJ governorship in 2013, assuming the Rutger's numbers reflect actual election day results (reweighted, of course, to 2009 Democratic numbers). Lets go one step further. Note that the popular Cory Booker trails Christie among Independents 59-23%, which is a larger net deficit than the unpopular Corzine obtained against Christie in 2009. But what if Booker performs at least as well as Corzine did in '09 with Independents and Democrats?

So if Booker performed at least as well as Corzine amongst Democrats and Independents, he would lead the Rutgers-Eagleton poll by 4 points, 48-44%. That is quite the turnaround from the 53-34% deficit the poll actually finds him in. Rest assure Booker advisers who favor a gubernatorial run are stressing a number of factors, but namely this: the political environment can change on a dime, as Sandy proved, and 1 year can be an eternity in politics. Give Sandy time to fade from memory and Christie will return to ground. If that happens, and if the Rutger's numbers are accurate (of course, w/ the race being 1 year out, there's a strong chance they are not), Booker COULD defeat Chris Christie simply by doing as well as Jon Corzine in 2009. That's something for the Newark Mayor to seriously consider.

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