In June, I telephoned an old New Jersey friend – a Republican lawyer from Totowa who has been active in Passaic county politics for decades and whose views I respect – to ask his views about the governor’s race between incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine and Republican challenger Chris Christie.
At the time, Christie was ahead by over 10 points in the New Jersey polls. I asked my friend of 33 years, “What do you think will happen in the governor’s race in November?” He answered without hesitation, “Corzine should win because the Republican base has been shrinking in this state, and the party has not done much to broaden the base. In many places in New Jersey, the Republican Party does not exist. The Republican label has become toxic in this state.”
My friend’s political sense is confirmed by recent national surveys, and speaks to the burden that all Republicans will face in the 2010 elections. The latest ABC News – Washington Post poll indicates Republican identification is down to 20% nationally, the lowest in over three decades. In the northeast, Republican I.D. is 13%.
These numbers suggest that the summer of tea parties, testy town hall meetings, threats of death panels in the health care bills, the rantings of Beck and Limbaugh, and the efforts of NBC-TV’s Today Show to revive Newt Gingrich’s political career have all had zero positive benefit to Republicans.
If Christie wins on Tuesday he will enjoy the sweet taste of knowing he defeated two foes: the ever-unpopular Jon Corzine and the increasingly unpopular national Republican Party. If Christie loses, he has himself – and his national party label – to blame.
The most recent Rutgers Eagleton poll shows that in New Jersey, Republican identification stands at 22% among the population. This means when Chris Christie walks into a supermarket or a restaurant, or stands at an office park to campaign, the first 10 people he is likely to encounter will include four independents, four Democrats, and two members of his own party. It is a wonder he did not just pack it in.
Christie’s burden of Republican identification in Jersey towns like Bloomfield, Edison, and Mt. Laurel could be repeated for Republican candidates across the country in 2010 in places like Shaker Heights, Ohio, to Brown County, Wisconsin, to Riverside and San Bernardino in California.
It may be time for the Republicans to admit there is no future in claiming that the president is not a citizen or that congressmen are trying to kill grandma, or that the Catholic bishops should decide what health care women can obtain. Instead, Republicans might try to get beyond 20% identity by offering reasonable alternatives rather than killing President Obama’s proposals for America.
Not everyone agrees with the president, but most want him to succeed. Associating themselves with those who hurl exaggerated attacks at the president has only succeeded in making the Republican Party, in the words of a wise Republican, “toxic.”
Note: Our firm, Belden Russonello & Stewart, is working for the New Jersey Education Association, which has endorsed Corzine.