Inability to lower taxes helped cost Gov. Corzine his job

Off-year elections can be notoriously unreliable as predictors of the future, but as a window on how the political landscape might have changed in the year since President Obama won the White House, Tuesday's Republican victories in Virginia and New Jersey delivered clear warnings for the Democrats.
By Karl Vick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 5, 2009

TOMS RIVER, N.J. -- In the end, Republican Chris Christie was propelled into the New Jersey governorship by the same force that pushed him so far ahead in early polls in the year-long campaign: angry, widespread resentment over the state's finances, especially the property taxes that incumbent Jon S. Corzine was elected promising to cut.

"I'm tired of Corzine. We have the highest property taxes in the United States," said John Kempton, a retired funeral director delighted to help lay the Democrat to rest as a one-term governor. He smiled over his coffee at a diner counter in Ocean County, a woodsy, middle-class suburban expanse of the state's midsection, where the verdict on Corzine was especially emphatic: Christie, 65.7 percent; Corzine, 28.5 percent.

"Ocean County is emblematic of the dissatisfaction with high property taxes, and dissatisfaction, really, with the definitive promises that Corzine made about taxes four years ago," said Peter J. Woolley, director of polling at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

"His entire mandate four years ago was based on the idea that he was a financial wizard, that he would straighten out the state's finances, that he would attack the property tax problem," Woolley said. "And the property tax problem was not abated, and he ended up raising the sales tax. And then the worst possible thing happened, and that was that the housing market went into a recession."

Kempton, 49, said he pays $5,000 a year in property taxes on a Cape Cod assessed at $349,000. Property taxes in Howell, in adjoining Monmouth County, have doubled in the six years since retired social studies teacher Lou Weil and his wife moved away. "That is totally unacceptable," Weil said. The margin in Monmouth: Christie, 62 percent; Corzine, 31.

"I came from New York thinking it'd be easier, and it's not," said Pat Scorsone, a courier, as she hurried out of the Crystal Diner. "Change is good, know what I mean?"

"Change" was what 39 percent of voters told exit pollsters mattered most in the New Jersey contest. It was also Christie's campaign mantra, boldly appropriated from the Obama campaign, which carried New Jersey by 15 percentage points.

"Last year, I voted for Obama because I wanted change," New Jersey voters chorused in one of the challenger's TV spots. "This year, I'm voting for Christie."

Among exultant Republicans at Tuesday night's victory celebration in Parsippany, the chant was, "Yes we did!"

Barely 12 hours after his victory, Christie was at a charter school in Newark, promising that vouchers could bring New Jersey's urban centers their share of the state's public education success. Surrounding Essex County went for Corzine, as did other Democratic strongholds, but not by margins big enough to produce victory.

"The key number is that only three of four Democrats voted for Corzine," Woolley said. "Party leaders and their machinery did not produce what they were supposed to produce. They did not go to the mat for Jon Corzine."

Returns from Democratic strongholds were tepid. In Hudson County, opposite New York City, turnout was only 36 percent, and Corzine's plurality dropped from 62,000 four years ago to 47,000. In Camden County, outside Philadelphia, his vote plummeted from 32,000 to 17,000.

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