I have to admit that I haven’t been paying any attention to New Jersey’s uncompetitive gubernatorial contest. And I really mean “any.” I’ve had important things to think about, like North Coloradan secession and the chances that various candidates survive 2016. As I’m writing this, I can’t remember Buono’s first name. Just looked it up: It’s Barbara. She’s the Democratic challenger to Chris Christie, by the way. But a twitter conversation between The Guardian’s Harry Enten and Patrick Murray, the director of Monmouth University’s polling operation, perked my interest. There’s evidence that Chris Christie’s massive lead, although still massive, is fading.
The newest Monmouth University survey shows Christie holding a 20 point lead, 56 to 36, over Buono. That’s a 10 point decline from June, when Christie was up by 30 points, 61 to 31. It’s not surprising that the race is tightening: if you didn’t support Christie a few months ago, you were probably a Democratic-leaner who was going to end up with the Democrat. But the most significant part, as Enten observed, is that Christie’s support has actually declined by 5 points. Indeed, the poll shows that Christie’s support among Democrats has fallen from 36 percent to 21 percent. At the same time, Buono got closer to unifying New Jersey’s Democrats. She’s now at 71 percent, up from 59 percent in June. Christie’s support among independents has held firm.
It’s important to emphasize that this is just one poll. There has only been one other survey over the last month—a Quinnipiac survey two weeks ago—and it didn’t show a similar drop off in Christie’s support. But it’s easy to see why Christie’s numbers among Democrats would be declining, and why that could continue. Christie, after all, has embroiled himself in the Republican campaign for presidency. That’s not likely to endear Democrats. And Christie is a conservative: He’s against abortion, against gay marriage, and he vetoed a trifecta of gun laws. So long as Christie wants to win the Republican nomination, it seems reasonable to expect that he would continue to sacrifice his support among New Jersey Democrats—although exactly how much is an open question.
According to just about every reported piece on the matter, the Christie camp wants to win by a massive margin. The type of margin that proves Christie can broaden the Republican coalition and force even the most reluctant conservatives to pay attention. But if Christie keeps bleeding Democrats, he might not get his wish. In 2009, 41 percent of voters were Democrats; just 31 percent were Republicans. If Buono continues to unify Democrats and manages a relatively unimpressive 85 percent of the Democratic vote, she’ll manage to get up into the low-to-mid forties—even if she still loses independents by a massive margin.
There’s no guarantee that Buono consolidates the state’s Democratic base. Today’s poll is only the first real hint that it might happen. Until now, it sort of seemed like Democrats were just going to tune out of the race. But it’s possible—so it’s worth wondering: Would a 57-43 victory satisfy the Christie camp? What about 55-45? Hard to say. It would be impressive in my book: The best showing by a New Jersey Republican seeking the governorship, senate, or presidency in my lifetime. But it might be somewhat underwhelming or even disappointing in comparison to the gargantuan, 40 point lead he held early in the race, when he was still riding a post-Sandy, post-Obama bump.