When a columnist here predicted last summer that Governor Brendan T. Byrne would win re-eclection this year, the writer's colleagues were ready to ship him off to the pundits.' corner of the looney bin.
Today, the columnist, with a few other visionaries who said the man called "one-term Byrne" could win a second time,is acclaimed as a genius.
Byrne, an embattled Democrate whose "unfavorable" rating in the opinion polls averaged 75 per cent and astounding political comeback this fall and how holds a definite lead over Republican challenger Raymond H. Bateman.
If Byrne holds on an wins Tuesday's election, it will be a harsh blow for the Republican Party, which has counted on gubernatorial triumphs here and in Virginia to provide momentum for the 1978 elections around the nation.
he campaign in this much-maligned state has been the kind that could give politics, and even New Jersey, a good name.
An innovative system of public election financing the first in a statewide campaign anwhere-has worked well. Though neither candidate is an electrifying personality. Byrne's comeback-points behind in September now say he leads by as much as 8 points-has made the race exciting. The candidates and the voters have paid close attention to the issues-or, more precisely the Issue.
In this campaign that has been the state income tax, which Byrne forced upon a reluctant legislature last year.
The tax was enormously unpopular. But Byrne stood by it, and that paid off. Voters now seem to agree that the income levy was a necessary alternative to higher sales or property taxes.
Bateman took a strong anti-tax stance to win a close Republican primary, and has been locked in ever since. Pressed to find another source of former Treasury Secretary William revenue, Bateman huddled with Simon program(which Byrne lethally E. Simon. The complex Bateman-labeled the "B.S. plan") reads like an economics textbook written by Rube Goldberg, and has been roasted in the press.
Debates over taxation have largely overshadowed the issue of Byrne's character, the key topic in June's 10-man Democratic primary, which Byrne won with 32 per cent of the vote.
The governor has a fondness for the prequisities of office. He likes to fly off to tennis matches at midday in his helicopter. He gave his daughter a state car when she went away to college. As his won official car he chose a silver Continental Mark V.
But Bateman is a gentle sort, and has not made much of these excesses."Ray doesn't have the killer instinct," a disappointed GOP campaign aide says. "He doesn't even have th wounding instinct."
For most of the campaign, the candidate who has been hardes about Byrne's character is Byrne himself.
The governor was told by his media adviser, David Garth, that he couldn't over come his person unpopularity, so he would flaunt it.
Bryne, whose platform style resembles a wind-up doll that's running down, displayed that strategy the other day outside an aging RCA plant in the grimy industrial city of Camden.
"I'm glad to be at RCA so that I can tell you all the trouble I've had with my TV set," Byrne told the startled workers, "It may be an RCA, but it's got problems.
"But then nobody's perfect-in politics or TV sets, I don't claim perfection either. But I say you've got to take me because the other guy is more terrible than I am."
Garth's television commercials acknowledge that most people don't like the governor-but say that voters should back him anyway on the issues. "You don't have to be crazy about Brendan Byrne to vote for him," runs one Democratic slogan.
To hear Republicans tell it, Bateman, a square-jawed All-American type who's served 19 years in the legislature, surfers from an excess of virtues.
Bateman, unhappily watching his lead seep away, seems to agree. Chatting casually over a can of beer in his campaign Winnebago-'The Batemobile'-he observed ruefully that "I could have a lot more votes if I had just said 'no income tax' and fudged the details."
In addition to Byrne's comeback, the big news here has been the success of the new campaign spending law, though it doesn't apply to primary elections.
It prohibits contributions above $600 sets a spending limit of $1.5 million for each candidate, and provides $2 of state money for each $1 the candidate raises.
Despite some squables about allocating expenses (who paysfor a poster listing Byrne and 10 local candidates?) the candidates say that have no trouble been compelled to seek the financial support from a broader cross-section of the populace.