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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Serious Cracks in Christie's Premise of Electability

We've been hearing for years how larger than life approval ratings indicated that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (a/k/a, the Big 4-5) was electable, that he would be the type of Republican "who could win" nationally.

Ummmmm. Not so fast, fellas.

The preliminary numbers show that:

* Christie barely got more votes this year in a two-person race -- preliminary numbers are about 65,000 more -- than he got in a three-way race in 2009 to first win as Governor. Compare his 2013 vote total of 1,242,568 with 99% reporting (caution: all numbers are preliminary until certified) to his 2009 certified vote total of 1,174,445.  Christie's numbers barely budged -- his vote totals may be 5% higher than four years ago. That's it.

*  The aggregate vote totals in the 2009 and 2013 gubernatorial elections show that overall votes were down this year, about 10% down from 2009. If voters are excited about a candidate, whether or not he (she) has national prospects, voter turnout goes --- up. The common wisdom was that voters in 2009 were angry about incumbent Jon Corzine, but take this year; do you honestly suggest voters in 2013 are not angry about --- Obamacare?  (Yes, that's a federal issue, the governor's race is a state issue, but most voters don't split those hairs.) 

If Christie was getting "crossover" support or building support from new constituencies (read: Latinos), overall voter interest, vote total numbers, all of those metrics go up.  But as explained above, Christie's vote totals barely nudged higher. (And now New Jersey has early voting by mail, which enhances rather than suppresses voter turnout, so scratch that excuse.)  Overall voter sentiment might be expressed with one word: Meh. Indifference is not a sign of voter excitement or coalition-building or a shift in the political tectonic plates. 

The bottom line:  Declining numbers are never evidence of voter enthusiasm. (Well, some delusional Republican fundraisers might disagree, but that's desperation talking more than intellectual honesty.)

* Christie has barely any coattail effect. The GOP appears to have picked up all of one legislative seat in the entire state.

* Arguably, Christie has negative coattail effects among Democrats, and especially among -- gasp! -- the aforementioned Latinos.  The very premise of Christie being a break-the-mold candidate shakes if not disintegrates upon looking at the evidence.

Exhibit A for this phenomenon is the heavily Hispanic Hudson County city of Union City, in which its State Senator (and Mayor) Brian Stack (D-33rd District) appears to have suffered a victory margin that shrank by about 10% this year running with the very explicit and oft-repeated endorsement of Governor Christie than he did in his last general election for State Senate in 2011. (Note: Raw vote totals are up this year, 2013 being a gubernatorial top of the ticket year whereas 2011 had State Senate at the top of the ticket; turnout, however, lifts all boats so percentage of the vote indicates the presence, or absence, of coattail support.)

Taken together, these facts undermine (and certainly do not establish) that Christie "runs well" with Hispanics or Democrats. The inability to build on vote totals from four years ago in a clear-shot general election is more of an indication that the support level of the opponent crashed.  That fact by itself would make Christie's vote percentages increase, even with his support plateauing, because the denominator (that being aggregate votes cast for all candidates) would shrink.  Hence, as long as you're just taking the headline percentage and not digging further, Christie would "appear" to gain more Democratic vote-share and Hispanic vote-share.  But just like with federal government statistics on unemployment, you have to drill down into the results, look at historical trends.  The Christie spin-meisters and GOP establishment already preparing fundraising solicitations don't want you to do this. Here's why:

When the down-ticket results for people running with or endorsed by Christie show that their actual 2013 vote percentage margins of victory declined against their last general election.  The aforementioned Stack is Exhibit A.  There will be more.


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