Key Counties Will Tell the Story in New Jersey

Judging by the final polls in the race for New Jersey governor, Tuesday could be a long night for the campaigns of Jon Corzine and Chris Christie.

Judging by the final polls in the race for New Jersey governor, Tuesday could be a long night for the campaigns of Jon Corzine and Chris Christie. The latest Quinnipiac poll puts Christie up by two over Corzine—42 percent to 40 percent. Independent Chris Daggett is at 12 percent, with 6 percent of likely voters still undecided. And the latest numbers from Public Policy Polling put Christie up 6 points—47 percent to 41 percent. Daggett is at 11 percent in that poll with just 2 percent undecided. The key for Christie Tuesday likely lies in his performance in two of the state’s bellweather counties—Bergen and Atlantic. Bergen County, in the north, is the state’s most populous county and contains some 530,452 registered voters. Atlantic County, in the south, has less than 170,000 registered voters but the traditionally Republican County has emerged as a key battleground between the major parties—Democrats have made inroads there over the past two election cycles.    “I’ll be watching some of those towns in Bergen County early,” says Democratic strategist Tony Bawidamann. “If Corzine isn’t doing well there, it’s going to be a long night.” Both Bergen and Atlantic counties also boast two of the most attention-grabbing state legislative contests Tuesday, with both likely to increase turnout. The 36th District Assembly race in Bergen County is a re-match, pitting two Republicans who lost narrowly in 2007 against the Democratic incumbents. The dynamic there shifted in late October when former Bergen County Democratic Chair Joseph Ferriero was convicted on corruption charges, something GOP consultant Rich Zeoli says tilted the environment toward Republicans. “There’s no doubt the Democratic machine there was weakened by it,” says Zeoli. “It’s a lot of internal Democratic chaos in that county right now.” And as for the Daggett effect, some think the independent could exert a larger impact in Bergen County—one of only two counties where Daggett’s name is well positioned on the ballot. In South Jersey, the 1st District Assembly contest is being waged in what has traditionally been Republican territory. The district covers Cape May County and parts of Atlantic and Cumberland Counties. If Democrats are able to hold the line in that race, in an area continuing to trend Democratic, it’s a good sign for Corzine. “The outcome of those two Assembly races will be a huge indicator of how the night shapes up,” says Bawidamann.  If it’s turnout indicators you’re looking for Tuesday night, keep an eye on Hudson County and Essex County, which houses Newark. Corzine needs to run up his margins in both of those counties, which contain a heavy concentration of Democrats. If turnout is higher than expected, Corzine likely has an early leg up on Christie. It could also mean that President Obama’s presence in the campaign’s final weeks paid dividends in energizing the state’s Democratic base.   In his 2005 election, notes pollster Patrick Murray, Corzine won a nearly 50,000-vote plurality in Hudson and Essex counties, which provided a major vote cushion in his win over Republican Doug Forrester. “He has to at least match that number,” says Murray. “And those are voters not entirely happy with Corzine right now.”  Shane D’Aprile is senior editor at Politics magazine. He can be reached at

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