Daily Archives: October 22, 2009

Patrick Murry: Christie’s Message of Change Lacks Hope

This blog post is from Patrick Murry’s blog “Real Numbers and Other Musings”and orginially appeared as a guest column for In The Lobby.

Chris Christie put out a new web video in response to President Barack Obama’s campaign stop for Governor Jon Corzine Thursday. Christie has been trying to use Obama’s “Change” mantra to unseat the incumbent, but has been having limited success in getting it to resonate with voters.


As I watched that video, the penny finally dropped on why this message wasn’t working for Christie. But first, a quick note about why Obama was here to begin with.

The inevitable question – or at least the question most reporters are asking – is whether Obama can really help Corzine’s reelection chances. The answer for that is found in two numbers: 87 and 64.

The former is President Obama’s job approval rating among New Jersey Democratic voters. The latter is Governor Corzine’s job rating among his fellow Democrats. Obama’s visit is not meant to sway undecided voters. It’s to get reluctant Democrats in Corzine’s column and out to the polls.

As part of our research strategy for this election, we have been tracking a panel of nearly 1,000 voters. Among the many shifts evident in this churning electorate, we’ve seen a small shift from undecided and other candidates to Corzine.

One Democratic voter who was leaning to Daggett in late September, but switched to Corzine in mid-October, said he was worried that the media would paint a Corzine loss as a referendum on Obama. As unhappy as he is with Corzine’s first term, this voter was reluctant to see the president suffer because of it. I assume he is not alone.

And that brings us back to Chris Christie. From the very beginning, the Republican’s camp has claimed that the electorate is in a “change” mood. Americans were unhappy with the way things were going in Washington and so they kicked out the Republicans in 2006 and 2008. Since New Jersey voters are similarly unhappy with the way things are going in Trenton, the Christie thinking goes, they’ll be just as willing to kick out the Democrats this year.

There are two problems with this line of thought. First, there isn’t a snowball’s chance in Hades that the Democrats will lose control of the Assembly. In fact, if they lose more than two seats, the GOP can claim some sort of moral, albeit meaningless, victory.

The bigger problem, though, is that Christie’s campaign communications folks apparently read only half of the Obama playbook. His message in 2008 was not “Change.’ It was “Hope” and “Change.” Or more accurately “HopeandChange” – sometimes even shortened derisively to “Chope” by his critics. But it was effective. [A recent Jimmy Margulies cartoon about Corzine played off the hope theme.]

And that’s where Christie’s campaign has fumbled the message. His new web video starts out by using Obama’s voice over images of homeless men in Camden, figuratively depicting New Jersey as being on a one-way street presumably to nowhere.

Frankly, I found it depressing. That’s when it hit me. Chris Christie is offering a message of change without hope. And not just in this web video, but throughout his entire campaign.

The punditry and the media have focused on his lack of specifics, charging that he has not given voters a clear policy proposal that they can hang onto. I have said before that despite their discontent with the incumbent, voters still need to be able to say, “Here is something concrete that Chris Christie is going to do,” before they will vote for change. But the problem with lacking a specific message is larger than just the policy details.

A specific campaign promise is, in itself, a message of hope. And Christie’s campaign strategy has been lacking that element of hope from the very beginning.

Yes, I know that the Republican nominee has used phrases like “hope is on the way” and “New Jerseyans hope real change will come.” But listen closely to Christie’s rhetoric when he talks about state government. The tone lacks a sense of hope.

That doesn’t mean you can’t attack your opponent’s record. In fact, it still amazes me that Christie has not used every opportunity offered him, especially in the debates, to point out specific Corzine weaknesses – i.e. the governor’s failed toll hike plan and the fizzled-out special session to reform property taxes. These are the reasons why Jon Corzine’s job approval rating is so low and are fair game in this race.

Instead, Christie has chosen to speak in generalities about how Corzine has raised taxes. And rather than leave the blame at Corzine’s feet, he follows that up by saying that the mess in Trenton is due to chronic mismanagement by both parties over the years. A common refrain from Chris Christie is that New Jersey is broken.

And therein lies the problem. Attacking the incumbent is one thing, especially if done well (which it hasn’t been in this case). But who wants to vote for a guy whose underlying campaign theme is that we are all headed down the toilet? Maybe his delivery is just a byproduct of the prosecutorial personality. But it doesn’t resonate with independent voters who need a positive reason to go out and vote.

New Jersey voters already believe the state is broken. That doesn’t mean they want to be constantly reminded of it. They want someone who is going to lead them out of the wilderness. Not someone who is going to point out every dried-up stream and dead tree.

It’s all about hope and change, Mr. Christie. Change and Hope.

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Filed under blogs, Chris Christie, Gov. Jon Corzine, Monmouth University, Patrick Murry, President Obama

Eagleton Poll Gives Corzine 3-Point Lead; Daggett At 20


From RealClear Politics

A new Rutgers Eagleton poll gives Gov. Jon Corzine (D) a 3-point lead with less than two weeks to go in the New Jersey gubernatorial race. With this survey, Corzine has taken a lead in the RCP Average of polling for the very first time.

General Election Matchup
Corzine 39
Christie 36
Daggett 20
Don’t Know 5

Asked for their second choice, 34 percent of Daggett’s voters say they would pick Christie, while 28 percent say Corzine and 24 percent say they would not vote at all. Daggett is tied among voters who say they’ve heard a lot about his property tax plan; but Corzine actually pulls ahead among those who say they’ve heard nothing about it — which is a quarter of the electorate.

“Daggett continues to draw fairly evenly from both major party candidates,” said Eagleton’s Dave Redlawsk. “However, in a close race, it may make a difference that Daggett voters are people who would have been slightly more on Christie’s side than on Corzine’s in a two-way race. The underlying question is whether current Daggett supporters really will vote for him on Election Day, or whether they will opt for their second choice, one of the major party candidates.”

Redlawsk also states: “While Daggett is clearly having an impact on this race, it seems that on the current trajectory, the vote would have to be very close for his candidacy to make the deciding difference. … It’s important to remember, however, that in two recent New Jersey Governor’s races (in 1993 and 1997), the victor’s margin was only about 1 percent of the vote.”

Corzine and Christie are tied amongst men, 38-38, but Corzine has a 6-point advantage among women. His campaign’s attacks on Christie over the mammogram issue has become a defining issue in the race

Favorable Ratings
Corzine 40 / 52
Christie 39 / 42
Daggett 31 / 15

Corzine’s job approval rating is 29 percent, with 70 percent disapproving.

Voter engagement in the race appears to be lukewarm, with 36 percent saying they are following the election “very closely,” and only 38 percent say they’ve watched or listened to one of the candidate debates. That factor is one reason why Democrats have brought in national surrogates to generate free media attention on New York and Philadelphia television stations that otherwise tend not to cover Garden State politics closely.

The survey of 583 likely voters was conducted October 15-20, with a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percent.

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Filed under Chris Christie, Chris Dagget, Gov. Jon Corzine, New Jersey, opinion poll, Real Clear Politics

Beyond Brown: Did Another Top Christie Aide Politicize Prosecutor’s Office To Help Former Boss?

TMPMuckraker-

So far, the charges that Chris Christie turned the U.S. attorney’s office into a “branch office” of his campaign for governor, as Jon Corzine put it yesterday, have centered on the relationship between Christie and Michele Brown, a close friend and top aide to Christie when he was US attorney. Brown reportedly took several actions this year that benefited Christie’s GOP bid for governor, and in 2007 got an undisclosed $46,000 loan from him.

But did another of Christie’s former top aides also put the prosecutor’s office in the service of his one-time boss’s political aspirations? Ralph Marra, who until this month was the acting U.S. attorney, has several times appeared to insert himself into the political back-and-forth over the race, appearing to pointedly criticize a request by the Corzine campaign for public information, and even triggering a Justice Department probe into whether he made inappropriately political public comments that may have boosted Christie.

Let’s look at the facts:

Christie has had a major hand in the Marra’s rise up the prosecutorial ranks. When Christie became U.S. attorney in 2002, he made Marra, a veteran prosecutor, his first assistant, the number 2 post in the office. Then when Christie stepped down last December to run for governor, Marra became acting U.S. attorney. (Marra returned to the first assistant position last week, with the confirmation of the new U.S. attorney, Paul Fishman.)

In July, Marra went before the cameras to announce a high-profile corruption bust that involved the arrests of a bevy of New Jersey mayors, elected officials, and rabbis. (It was this same bust that Brown reportedly tried to change the timing of, in one of her own apparent bids to help Christie.)

The case as a whole was a boon to Christie, under whose leadership much of the investigation had been carried out. And it appeared to damage Corzine, by focusing attention on the state’s rotten political culture which the incumbent governor had earlier pledged to clean up. But at the press conference, Marra made sure that message wasn’t lost, departing from the “just-the-facts” approach that prosecutors customarily take in such cases, and instead seeming to point the finger at the Corzine administration. Said Marra:


There are easily reforms that could be made within this state that would make our job easier, or even take some of the load off our job. There are too many people that profit off the system the way it is and so they have no incentive to change it. The few people that want to change it seem to get shouted down. So how long that cycle’s going to continue I just don’t know.
According to video of the press conference, Marra also declared:

With so many profiting off a corrupt system is it any wonder that few want to change the system? Once again the victims in this are the average citizens and honest business people in this sate. They don’t have a chance in this culture of corruption.

The Justice Department’s internal ethics unit subsequently opened an investigation into whether his comments violated departmental guidelines that forbid political statements from prosecutors. (DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TPMmuckraker about the status of the probe.)

Then in August, Marra sent an email to the U.S. attorney’s office staff, obtained by PolitickerNJ.com, in which he slammed the “barrage of FOIA requests” which the Corzine campaign had made earlier that year, seeking information on Christie’s tenure as U.S. attorney. Marra said the requests had “unfairly drawn [the office] into a political campaign.” He also denounced what he called the “wholly trumped up (and then apparently leaked) complaint” by the Corzine campaign that led to the DOJ probe of his press conference comments, and defended those comments as “generic and general.”

As we noted yesterday, back in February Christie had appeared to announce his intention to appoint his former colleagues to positions in his administration, if elected. He told a crowd of supporters: “I’ve got a group of assistant U.S. attorneys sitting down in Newark … I’m going to take a whole group of them to Trenton with me and put them in every one of the departments.”

It’s worth asking whether some of Christie’s former colleagues, like Marra and Brown, decided to use their positions to help make that happen.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Filed under Chris Christie, corruption, Gov. Jon Corzine, Michele Brown, New Jersey, Ralph Marra, Talking Points Memo, US Attorneys Office