Upstart Gains in New Jersey
Independent Makes Case That Backing Him for Governor Wouldn’t Be a Wasted Vote
The Wall Street Journal October 22, 2009
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TEANECK, N.J. — The independent candidate for New Jersey governor is primed to play spoiler in the Nov. 3 election. The question is which candidate he will hurt most.
Recent polls show Chris Daggett, an environmental consultant, getting 14% support, while Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine and Republican challenger Chris Christie each are averaging less than 40% each, according to polling aggregator RealClearPolitics.com.
Voters’ mood this year is more anti-Corzine than it is pro-Christie, and most observers believe Mr. Daggett is siphoning anti-incumbent votes from the challenger. In a poll last week, Quinnipiac University asked Daggett supporters who their second choice would be. Forty percent said Mr. Christie and 33% said Mr. Corzine.
Turnout is typically low in New Jersey’s odd-year gubernatorial election, and with the better-organized Democrats behind the incumbent, a key will be those who say they are supporting Mr. Daggett.
Mr. Christie, a former U.S. attorney, had hoped to capitalize on dissatisfaction among unaffiliated voters and unhappy Democrats. Mr. Corzine, who was elected in 2005 after five years in the U.S. Senate, has suffered from the perception that he hasn’t addressed the state’s biggest problem — high property taxes — and festering resentment at his handling of high unemployment.
The White House is on the case: Wednesday, President Barack Obama appeared at a rally with Mr. Corzine for the second time this year. In recent days, Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton also campaigned in the state.
Mr. Daggett has no such star power backing him. At a grassroots meeting in the suburban New York City town of Teaneck Tuesday evening, Mr. Daggett tried to tamp down fears that a vote for him would be wasted.
“I believe the indictment of the two-party system is strong across New Jersey,” Mr. Daggett told a group of about 30 people. “A vote for me is a vote for me. It’s time to take action on your beliefs.”
Mr. Christie led in the polls until September. That’s when Mr. Corzine’s personal wealth from his Wall Street career began fueling ads that questioned Mr. Christie’s ethics and decision-making. Another Corzine ad seemed to highlight Mr. Christie’s girth while a voiceover said Mr. Christie “threw his weight around as U.S. attorney.”
Mr. Christie has fought back by frequently reminding voters of Mr. Corzine’s wealth, which allows him to contribute to political and church groups.
All the mudslinging has opened the door for the long-shot candidate. At a televised debate Oct. 1, the major-party candidates sniped at each other while Mr. Daggett presented a detailed plan that would lower property taxes by 25%. He said he would do so namely by expanding the types of services that are subject to the state’s sales tax. He also called for cutting pension and health-care benefits for public employees, a risky move in a state that is heavily unionized.
Mr. Daggett’s message that voters aren’t getting what they want from either major-party candidate has played particularly well with some of the state’s 2.4 million unaffiliated voters, which make up about half of the total.
“What the Chris Daggett phenomenon is is a pox on both your houses,” says Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in Long Branch. “We don’t like the job Jon Corzine has done, but we don’t think Chris Christie has leveled with us and told us what he will do, either.” Mr. Corzine says he has capped local property-tax increases and preserved rebates for middle-class taxpayers and favors property-tax credits or rebates in the future. Mr. Christie’s campaign says he has a plan to cut the state property tax by cutting items in the state budget.
As the regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Ronald Reagan, Mr. Daggett played a role in killing a popular New York development project that he says would have harmed the Hudson River. He later served as the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection and was recently picked by Mr. Corzine to help overhaul the state’s environmental-permit process.
Mr. Daggett has spent about $1 million on the election. Mr. Corzine, formerly chief executive of Goldman Sachs, has outspent him by at least 17 times, while Mr. Christie has outspent Mr. Daggett by nearly six times.
At the meeting in Teaneck, Mr. Daggett impressed on the group the need for them to elect someone willing to address the tax structure and an anticipated $8 billion state deficit.
One audience member, Richard Karp, a professional artist in Teaneck, said he planned to vote for Mr. Daggett, even though he doesn’t believe he has a chance. “Realistically, people are not inclined to vote for an independent,” he said.
Mr. Murray of the Monmouth polling institute agreed. “New Jerseyans are just so used to voting for a political party,” he said.
The recent Quinnipiac poll found that only 39% of those respondents have made up their minds.
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