Endorsed By Paper, Independent Could Be A Spoiler in New Jersey

When the New Jersey Star-Ledger endorsed independent Christopher Daggett for governor on Sunday, I think I heard the cheers from Democratic Gov.

When the New Jersey Star-Ledger endorsed independent Christopher Daggett for governor on Sunday, I think I heard the cheers from Democratic Gov. John Corzine's campaign headquarters all the way down here in D.C. That's because Daggett, who is commanding a significant 10 to 15 percent in most polls, appears to be having an effect on how the New Jersey governor's race is shaping up and, most importantly, he appears to be taking votes away from Republican challenger Chris Christie. Christie and Corzine now appear to within the margin of error in most polls. Some are wondering what effect the endorsement will have on the race. While newspapers are having a tough go of it nowadays, their endorsements still appear to matter. Earlier this year, Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds picked up the Washington Post's backing during the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Deeds, who was third in most polls over the course of the race, gained significant momentum and went on to win the primary. Ben Dworkin, a political analyst at the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, doesn't think the endorsement will factor greatly into the race. "I don't think it's going to have much of an effect at all," Dworkin said. "It's a nice perk but it's an elite-driven validation that might give a few folks an extra opportunity to think about it, but in the end I don't think it's going to make much of a difference at all." Dworkin also suggested that Daggett won't pull the same percentage on Election Day that he is receiving in the polls because of ballot placement. The Democrat and Republican appear in the first two columns on the New Jersey ballot and all of the other also-rans are jumbled up after that. Voters may have difficulty finding Daggett among the rest. And those who picked Daggett in polls, Dworkin said, may also wonder if they are wasting their ballots once they get into the booths in November. "It's easy to say a pox on both of their houses [to a pollster] and choose the independent," Dworkin said. "My sense is that Daggett will get five or six percent." Others noted that the endorsement could have some influence but that Daggett may have trouble capitalizing on it. "It'll have some influence but Daggett's problem is having little cash on hand, " said Roger Bodman, a veteran New Jersey GOP strategist. "Even though he's gotten more prominence in the last week or two, his fundraising has not improved." Still, Bodman estimates Daggett will finish in the 10-point range and believes that Daggett is taking votes from both Corzine and Christie somewhat equally. That theory runs contrary to the conventional wisdom that if Daggett gets a significant percentage, he could be instrumental in a Corzine victory. Just how Daggett does - and therefore whether the Star-Ledger's endorsement pulls voters into his camp - is the "most important wild card in the race," Pollster.com's Mark Blumenthal wrote last week.

...Corzine's prospects depend on Daggett retaining his current support. Election Day is a little over three weeks away and for now Daggett's trajectory is up, not down, based partly on his debate performance a week ago, so Daggett's trend line may not follow the traditional pattern. Democrats should hope so, because a collapse in Daggett's support would be a scary scenario for Corzine.

Jeremy P. Jacobs is the staff writer at Politics. He can be reached jjacobs@politicsmagazine.com

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