Thursday, March 14, 2013

New Jersey Senate 2014: Geraldo Rivera's very, very longshot against Cory Booker

Photo courtesy of Steve Zmijewski, Townsquare Media NJ
The midterm elections, which are typically giant snooze-fests compared to presidential contests, are shaping up to be a downright intriguing, if not puzzling affair. From a Hollywood starlets possible run in Appalachia, to a gay, South Carolina conservative considering a primary challenge from the right against Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), to a former Florida Republican Governor hoping to regain his old seat from the GOP incumbent as a...wait for it...Democrat, there seems to be no shortage of attention-grabbing contests in 2014. And IF Geraldo Rivera throws his name in the ring, you can count the New Jersey Senate race as one of them.

Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker has long been at the top of Democratic party big wig's list of pols with the most potential; sort-of like the next Barack Obama (who will be exiting the national political stage for good in less than four years). He has many of the qualities Barack possesses; an uncanny ability to connect with people, a burgeoning charisma, and ambition, ambition, ambition! The only problem for party leaders is elevating him from his position of mayor to an office that could serve as a launching pad for something greater. New Jersey Democrats deeply wanted him to challenge Christie in the New Jersey Govenror's race, and just as it began to look like he may, Hurricane Sandy happened, Chris Christie reached near God-like status, and naturally, Booker chickened out. But if Booker was afraid of Gov Christie, he was more than willing to let establishment NJ Democrats know he was NOT afraid of 89 year old, 30 year Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). Despite some tough words threatening a Democratic primary from the Lautenberg camp, the old-man acquiesced, and announced his retirement just a few weeks ago. Since then, limited polling has been pretty strong for Booker in both the Democratic primary and the general election. And according to the new Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind survey, this remains true even when New Jerseyans are given well-known journalist/TV personality Geraldo Rivera as the Republican choice for Senator in 2014: 

If the election for Frank Lautenberg’s United States Senate seat was held today, and the choice was Democrat Cory Booker or Republican Geraldo Rivera, for whom would you vote?
Cory Booker (D)  -  52%
Geraldo Rivera (R)  -  21%
Unsure  -  23%
If Republicans were hoping that Geraldo would be their savior in New Jersey in 2014, think again. But honestly, who else would give Booker a better run for his money? Nonetheless, let's take a look at where Booker is drawing his strength from through the prism of racial/ethnic identification. Right off the bat, the Fairleigh Dickinson cross tabs draw your attention to the fact that Booker leads Rivera by 27 points, 50-23%, with white voters (he also leads among non-white voters, 60-16%). But Rivera shouldn't let this fact alone keep him from entering the race, especially when you consider how unlikely it is that Booker's support from white's will last through a partisan campaign. The chart below illustrates this point by noting Democrat and Republican's share of the white and non-white vote in every state-wide NJ election I could find exit poll information for:


First off, notice that no single Republican for statewide office in New Jersey has lost the white vote by more than 4 points since 1992. In every other election in which exit poll data was readily available, Republicans won the white vote anywhere from 1 to 25 points. In fact, in the one New Jersey election where Republicans lost the white vote (1996), a strong third party candidacy from Ross Perot was largely to blame, as well as a very weak Republican candidate in Bob Dole. 
Meanwhile, New Jersey Democrats won the non-white vote in every election since 1992 by no less than 36 points, and no more than 80 points.

So armed with the knowledge that Republicans almost never do any worse than 42% with white NJ voters, and that Democrats almost never do any worse than 65% with non-whites, what would the Fairleigh Dickinson poll have looked like if reweighted to more realistic numbers among white/non-white voters? For the sake of the 1st hypothetical, a sort of worst-case-scenario for a potential Rivera 2014 campaign, lets assume that the Republican for Senate does only as well with white voters as Bob Dole in 1996 (42%). Let's further assume that Cory Booker does at least as well with non-white voters in 2014 as Sen. Bob Menendez did in 2012. After all, Booker is a minority himself. There's little reason to believe he can't get to the 89% Menendez achieved in 2012. How would the F-D results have looked with Rivera/Booker spitting white voters the way Clinton/Dole did in in '96, yet splitting non-white voters the way Menendez/Kyrillos did in '12?


What was a +31 race for Booker now becomes a +29 race. So the boost in Rivera's white vote from reweighting to Bob Dole's 1996 numbers was offset by reweighting Booker's non-white vote to Bob Menendez's 2012 numbers. 

In one last hypothetical, let's try and be a little more realistic about Rivera's numbers among whites. Consider failed 2012 NJ Senate candidate Joseph Kyrillos (R), who lost to Sen. Bob Menendez (D) by a considerable 59-39% margin. Despite the Republican candidate's 20 point defeat, he still carried the white vote by 10 points, 54-44%. Kyrillos' overall 20 point loss stemmed from his 80 point deficit with non-white voters, who made up 33% of the 2012 NJ electorate. Let's assume that Rivera does at least as well as Kyrillos did with white voters in 2012, while Booker does at least as well as Menendez with non-white voters in 2012:


Still, Booker's original 31 point lead is only cut to an 18 pt lead (58-40%). Obviously, 58-40% doesn't win the election for Republicans. Rivera may be as good as any GOP candidate for Senate in New Jersey. But then again, in the home that reelected Bob Menendez despite his deep moral and ethical troubles, "as good as the GOP gets" is typically not good enough.

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