"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance

 and a people who mean to be their own governors

 must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

Monday, November 14, 2005

New Jersey Election 2005 Post Mortem

In the 2001 New Jersey governor's race with Jim McGreevey against Bret Schundler, the candidates spent a combined $36 million on the campaign with the Democrat McGreevey outspending the Republican Schundler by a margin of 3-to-1. The result was McGreevey
1,256,853 votes to Schundler’s 928,174, a difference of 328,679 votes in favor of the Democrat.

In this year’s gubernatorial race the candidate’s spent a combined $75 million with Jon Corzine outspending Doug Forrester by a margin of 2-to-1. The result was Corzine 1,157,385 votes and Forrester 954,347, a difference of 203,038 votes in favor of the Democrat.

Corzine received 99,468 fewer votes than McGreevey, while Forrester received 26,173 more votes than Schundler. Corzine’s vote performance would appear to be disappointing considering the historic amount spent on his campaign and the “election day army of 20,000 street soldiers” Corzine dispatched to get out the vote.

Democrats took a 20-year voting history of all 6,310 voting precincts in the state, supplied by the National Committee for an Effective Congress, and cross-referenced it with their own polling and other data.

Using the data, Democrats targeted 680 black precincts and 557 Hispanic precincts. The Democrats sent canvassers out armed with Palm Pilots that had individual data and scripts for every voter who answered the door. The information was so precise, the canvasser knew without asking what the voter's top issue was.
So, what to make of the 2005 race for Governor of New Jersey. First the negative Bush factor is a convenient excuse for the Forrester loss. President Brush’s approval ratings were on the ascent, in the 70 percent range, on Election Day 2001, but by November 2005 Bush’s approval ratings were declining, dipping into the mid 30’s. Yet, Forrester received 3% more votes than Schundler and Corzine received 8% fewer votes than McGreevey.

More likely it was the Acting Gov. Richard Codey factor that helped Corzine. Codey provided a year of calm and comparative fiscal restraint after the McGreevey years of scandal and profligate spending. Further, the McGreevey resignation was portrayed as a “just about sex” scandal and not about a corrupt Governor who squandered billions in taxpayer dollars in political payoff schemes. Five months after McGreevey stepped down a Zogby poll showed that 49 percent of New Jerseyans would consider voting for him in a future election.

Many potential voters came to believe both Corzine and Forrester were essentially running under the same platform – property tax relief and ethics reform. Turnout was down a bit in this election because neither Corzine nor Doug Forrester excited voters. The consensus of registered voters in New Jersey was “none of the above” and they voted their choice by staying away from the polls.

One major issue in this campaign should have been state spending. Forrester never made an issue of the laundry list of new spending programs Corzine was proposing. Forrester allowed the cost of implementing his 30 in 3 property tax plan to remain an open question and never pointed out the billions in new spending Corzine was proposing. This was a major opportunity missed to show the difference in philosophy between the two candidates.

Forrester was calling for returning more money to taxpayers and Corzine for returning less and spending even more than McGreevey. A lack of new spending programs by Forrester was painted as a lack of “vision” for the state. Forrester failed to make the point that Corzine was offering a “lame” property tax relief plan because he was proposing to spend the money wasted in Trenton on new programs. If billions were available for the new Corzine programs then obviously those same billions could have paid for a meaningful property tax reduction plan. This fact was never addressed in a single Forrester campaign ad.

The Forrester campaign was outspent and had no real GOTV effort beyond automated phone calls. Corzine dominated TV and radio, had a well organized ground game and managed to get out the targeted vote necessary to win the election. Forrester apparently was counting on voter outrage about corruption and taxes to turn out the vote for him.

The 2005 governor’s race was a typical statewide election, reflecting the fact Democrats far out number Republicans in New Jersey. The Republican Christie Whitman’s wins were squeakers. Whitman won by less than 30,000 votes against Jim Florio in 1993, despite the “Florio Free” anti-tax backlash and by a similar margin in 1997 against a virtually unknown Jim McGreevey.

The chart below shows the percentage of the vote the Democrat candidate received in the last two presidential and gubernatorial races in New Jersey. President Bush greatly increased his percentage of the vote from 2000 to 2004 with no ground game in New Jersey last year. The increase in votes for Bush was an anomaly and more likely reflected votes for a sitting President at a time of war, rather than a movement toward Republicans in New Jersey.

Corzine, while besting Kerry’s percent of the vote was not able to equal the percentages of Al Gore or Jim McGreevey. Corzine was not a wildly popular candidate, but he was the Democrat. The percent of the vote by county for Democrat candidates has been fairly consistent – Democrats vote for their party’s nominee and in this race, it happened to be Corzine.

The large number of “independents” on New Jersey’s voter registration rolls is a function of voters not selecting a party affiliation to vote in a primary. Presidential nominees have been decided long before New Jersey’s late presidential primary has been held, giving little reason for people to declare a party and vote. The move of New Jersey’s primary to February and the contest for presidential nominees by both parties in the next election may very well provide a more accurate picture of voter affiliation in the state. New Jersey is probably a 55% Democrat – 45% Republican state.

Tax receivers are particularly well organized and represented by Democrats in New Jersey. Taxpayers are nominally represented by Republicans. Democrats supported by tax receivers will continue to win elections as long as Republicans fail to unite and support taxpayers. Many potential Republican voters have given up in the state or have crossed their fingers and voted for the Democrat in hope of becoming tax receivers too.

This should have been a Republican year in New Jersey. President Bush and lazy voters are not to blame for the party’s defeat. The New Jersey state Republican Party lacks effective leadership, organization and unity. A total shake-up will be required to turn the Party and the state around. A campaign against Republican congressman in New Jersey has been ongoing for a year. Attack ads and telephone calls from Democrat front groups go unchallenged. The NJGOP better get its act together and soon if Republicans ever hope to successfully compete in this state.

Democrat Candidate Percent of Vote
By New Jersey County
Dem Percent Of Vote


At 6:48 PM, Blogger nightfly said...

Gosh, that "It's W's fault!" thing was so lame I nearly blogged on it myself. To paraphrase Sean Connery (THE MAN) - "Losers whine about the top of the ticket; winners go home and f*** the prom queen."

It was Forrester's job to overcome the (nonexistent) Katrina backlash in New Jersey. He had no answer. He had no reply to the ads Corzine ran that married him to corruption in Monmouth County. He ran poorly in a race that, as much as any in Jersey, was there for him. He's never gotten over the Lautenberg thing, I think...

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