June 1st, 2009
08:53 PM ET
14 years ago

Showdown in New Jersey GOP primary

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/06/01/art.corzine.gi.jpg caption="New Jersey Republicans are battling to take on Democrat Jon Corzine."](CNN) -  No Republican candidate was won statewide in New Jersey in 12 years. But with Gov. Jon Corzine - the Democratic incumbent - struggling in the polls, the GOP hopes this year their losing streak will end.

Voters in the Garden State head to the polls Tuesday and in the gubernatorial battle, two very different Republican candidates are fighting to face off this November against Corzine.

Since the GOP gubernatorial showdown in New Jersey is the only statewide Republican primary this year, the race has also, to some extent, become a proxy in the nationwide battle between conservatives and moderates for the heart of the Republican party.

All recent polls in New Jersey suggest that former federal prosecutor Chris Christie has a wide lead in the contest. The moderate Republican candidate also has the backing of the state party's establishment. He's facing off against the much more conservative Steve Lonegan, a former three term mayor and small business owner who's running as the candidate of the right and against what he calls the "party bosses."

When it comes to the issues, there's a clear divide. Christie supports gun control, calls for incremental tax overhaul, and, after once supporting abortion rights, now favors some restrictions. Lonegan is a firm believer in gun rights, supports a flat tax on income, and opposes abortion rights.

Christie supporters argue that Lonegan is just too conservative to win a statewide race against Corzine. Recent political history isn't conclusive. A conservative Republican candidate won the 2001 primary but was defeated in the general election. In 2005, a moderate GOP candidate came out on top in the primary but suffered defeat in the November election. The last Republican to win any state-wide contest was former Gov. Christie Todd Whitman, a moderate, who won re-election in 1997.

"This is a pricey state to run in, because of the state's two very expensive media markets, New York City and Philadelphia," says Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. "Christie has the resources and the endorsements. Lonegan does not. Christie also has a reputation as a crime fighter, which is an asset."

While each state race has its own unique issues and personalities, the New Jersey battle in some ways is a small scale example of the great divide in the Republican party. But in this case, the conservative candidate doesn't have the upper hand.

"There is a division within the Republican party in New Jersey that reflects the larger debate in national GOP circles. But the Garden State races is in some ways unique, because the advantages fall to the moderate candidate," adds Rothenberg. "In this case, the history of statewide losses by GOP candidates and the great desire by state Republicans to win, favors Christie."

While Christie and Lonegan fight it out Tuesday, Corzine will hold a general election kickoff rally. Vice President Joe Biden will join Corzine at the event, in West Orange, New Jersey. Recent polls suggest that a majority of New Jersey voters disapprove of the job he's doing as governor and the surveys suggest that if the election were held today, he might lose to either Cristie or Lonegan.

"In a state where Republicans have fallen off the cliff, Christie has a serious shot at winning," says Rothenberg.

But the election is five months away, giving Corzine time to bounce back, and the governor has the power of incumbency and deep pockets to pay for what could be a very expensive re-election bid.

Republicans would dearly love to score a victory in New Jersey and Virginia, the other state holding a gubernatorial contest. In Virginia, the Democratic Governor, Tim Kaine, is term limited. The GOP hopes winning back a Democratic held governorship in either New Jersey or Virginia, or both, would end the bleeding from 2006 and 2008 and launch Republicans towards victory in the 2010 midterm elections.

Filed under: Extra • New Jersey
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Ray

    he might be doing well, but will Never win. Corzine will not loose re-election.

    June 1, 2009 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  2. William Shakespeare

    No republican candidate was won? First sentence has glaring error.

    June 1, 2009 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  3. The Party of NO is only “pro-life” to save a zygote now, so it can then kill the “babies” 18 years later as soldiers in an elective religious war.

    Right, and how many "republican renaissance" attempts is this one?

    First it was NY20 , now Ensign is one, the listening tour was one blah, blah, blah.

    Guess the repubs are too busy tea bagging one another to keep count.

    June 1, 2009 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  4. Bob Glavine

    Lonegan is a little crazy but is a dedicated public offficial with strong convictions. I would consider voting for him against Jon Corzine.

    I would not vote for Christie. He is a phony windbag. A loser.

    Bob in Paramus

    June 1, 2009 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  5. Dr. O

    I live in NJ and the state needs change. We need someone to cut our ridiculous high property taxes. We pay too much in property taxes and it must stop. People are getting taxed out of this state. NJ needs to cut TAXES to keep people here.

    June 1, 2009 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  6. RussOCNJ

    There is little differnce between Corzine and Christie. Taxpayers will just be sending thier money to political hacks with "R" after their name instead of "D"

    If Steve Lonegan does not win and implement his tax cutting plan it is North Carolina for me. Then I will pay 0% tax in NJ.

    June 1, 2009 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  7. Mark,B'ham,Al.

    New Jersey would be a better fit to move a moderate into who is fiscally conservative. That is New Jerseys biggest problem is highest tax rate in the country and what do they get for all that money but a welfare state. I lived their in 75-76.

    June 1, 2009 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  8. voter

    who cares. I am from NJ and I can careless about the gop primary. Are they still around?

    June 1, 2009 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |

    I think Corzine will get a small victory in the end results.....These two don't appear to be governor material....I could be wrong though.

    June 1, 2009 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  10. James

    Too bad New Jersey control of the Governor's office has nothing to do with the politics of the populace... it's completely based on how the swing-voters feel based on the last 6 months to 2 years before the election. It has nothing to do with "Republican" or "Democratic" policies. It has everything to do with who the populace feels least screwed over by in recent memory.

    June 1, 2009 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  11. Moe NY

    OMG New Jersey....there are a lot of good Dems out there...please, do not resort to electing a Republican/Conservative person. The majority of Americans are trying for a shot at the future, not the same old song and dance.

    June 1, 2009 11:12 pm at 11:12 pm |
  12. RealityKing

    "No Republican candidate was won statewide in New Jersey in 12 years."??

    CNN clearly needs a few less over-educated progressive editors...

    June 1, 2009 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  13. and against what he calls the "party bosses."

    "hoping GOP losing streak will come to an end"

    if you win, then you should play the lottery, both are long shots and the party of no, or party of hate, which ever since both apply, has a snow balls chance in death valley

    June 1, 2009 11:50 pm at 11:50 pm |
  14. BarbraK

    With the current economic situation in our country, it has been difficult for Corzine to keep his promises. Any Governor,Democrat or Republican,would have a very difficult time. But when the chips are down, I feel the Democrats will pull together and keep Corzine in office.

    June 2, 2009 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  15. J.P.

    I honestly don't think the party-boss liberal-lite RINO "republicans" grasp the level of anger out here among tax-paying conservative voters.

    RINOs will be booted in the primaries. We've tried it your way, and everytime we try it your way we either get creamed (GHWB, McCain) or we get stuck with a window-licking, short-bus riding "compassionate conservative" dunce who has more in common with East-Coast country-club Rockefeller republicans than Reagan democrats.

    In the 2010 cycle primaries, RINOs need not bother, because you WILL be replaced. Save your money and your family the heartache of another campaign.

    June 2, 2009 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  16. Ennis, LA

    Corzine acts as if he doesn't care to lose. Rumors say he'll
    be content with a job from Obama...like ambassadorship.
    Jersey is one of the toughest states to govern.

    June 2, 2009 01:13 am at 1:13 am |
  17. Nick

    Christie is a statist, not a conservative. Lonegan is the way to go.

    June 2, 2009 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
  18. bsmith171

    is Corzine a hippie?
    what's with the scruffy beard and the goofy bald guy haircut?

    June 2, 2009 01:41 am at 1:41 am |