There’s not much of a question about whether New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) will win reelection Tuesday night. The question is how much Christie’s margin will trickle down to other races — and the answer will determine whether Republicans can wrest control of the state Senate from Democrats.
During his first term, Christie has had to contend with Democrats who control the state Senate and Assembly. Republicans need to win five seats to take back the Senate, and some observers think Christie’s big lead could provide the coattails Republican candidates need to get across the finish line.
A Rutgers-Eagleton survey of 535 likely voters, conducted Oct. 28-Nov. 2, showed 42 percent of New Jersey voters would pick a Democratic candidate for state Assembly, while 36 percent would choose the Republican candidate. In the September survey, Democratic state Assembly candidates held a 17-point edge among likely voters. Democratic state Senate candidates held a 44 percent to 38 percent edge over Republicans, down from a 15-point advantage in September.
Republicans have their eyes on the five Democratic-held seats that could get them to a majority: In the 1st District, along the Delaware Bay, state Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D) is seeking reelection. Former Atlantic City mayor Jim Whelan (D), now the incumbent state senator, is seeking another term in the 2nd District. Two Middlesex County districts, Democratic gubernatiorial nominee Barbara Buono’s 18th and state Sen. Linda Greenstein’s (D) 14th, are targets. So is the 38th District, in Bergen and Passaic Counties, where state Sen. Robert Gordon (D) is running for reelection.
Cognizant that significant coattails could add to his aura of electability, Christie has cut television advertisements for three Republican Senate candidates.
Each district elects a senator and two Assembly members. All five districts lean Democratic; President Obama won 52 percent of the vote in Van Drew’s district, 54 percent in Gordon’s district and much higher margins in the other three. That means Republicans face an uphill fight.
“It’s a very, very tough road because of the gerrymandering of the districts. These are districts that were drawn by Democrats and are designed to protect incumbents on both sides,” said David Redlawsk, a political scientist who conducts the Rutgers-Eagleton poll.
But as Christie heads toward a blowout, Democratic voters may see less of a reason to go to the polls on Tuesday — which would impact down-ballot candidates. Three polls out over the weekend show Christie leading Buono by anywhere from 20 points to 36 points.
“At 20 or 24 points, I don’t think Christie’s coattails would be enough. At 30 [points], I think they start to pick up some seats,” Redlawsk said. “It’s not clear to me that the Buono campaign has the kind of get-out-the-vote operation that would overcome” demoralized Democrats.