June 2nd, 2009
08:42 AM ET
14 years ago

New Jersey GOP primary showdown

[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 today 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."

State Assemblyman Rick Merkt is also on the ballot.

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: New Jersey
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Bob Stephens

    We had to put up with Dick ( War Criminal ) Cheney and his VP for 8 years. Isn't that enough? Dick , please just go away!!!!!!

    June 2, 2009 08:48 am at 8:48 am |
  2. Free Thinker

    CNN's top online stories run from Susan Boyle to penguin poop. Not one mention yet about the muslim that shot and killed the army recruiters. Had he been a christian the top story would have been "Right Wing Radical Kills Again". CNN is a left wing radical organization. Every other online news site has a lead story about the Muslim killer – but not CNN. Yet we still get to read on CNN about Tiller the Killer's murder. Good luck getting anything fair and balanced out of CNN. Wake up you left wing zombies!!!

    June 2, 2009 09:07 am at 9:07 am |
  3. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Corzine will issue a hit on Christie and that will be that.

    June 2, 2009 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  4. phoenix86

    Corzine is such a poor governor, I cannot imagine New Jersey re-electing this guy.

    June 2, 2009 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  5. MatthewDetroit

    While the Dems are selling our country to China for debt we need to finally turn this around one state at a time.
    Barack cried like a baby about President Bush adding 500 million per year to the national debt, while he is now adding 1.9trillion per year. We are broke and we are giving bankrupt companies money.
    All Barack did was spend Billions putting off the inevitable. He is wasting money and nationalizing companies like Chavez in Venezuela.
    People must wake up and look at the laws that barack is breaking.
    He DOES NOT believe in the US Constitution or the Bill of Rights.
    He is not a Natural Born Citizen.
    He is the offspring of a Kenyan Citizen, born outside the United States. He hates and has disregard for the USA. You Dems are blind to it and really need to find the truth.

    June 2, 2009 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  6. Tony Castrato

    Republicans? Fuggetaboudit. Ba da bing.

    June 2, 2009 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  7. awaitingliberalizationbyCNN

    Anyone ever notice that the states with the most problems are also the most heavily unionized? Anybody getting a clue?

    June 2, 2009 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  8. Dan

    Nice typo in the first sentence.

    June 2, 2009 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  9. Mari( maybe one of my comments will be posted)

    God bless you, Jon Corzine with a BIG win!

    Come on New Jersey don't fall for the GOP's vile rhetoric!

    June 2, 2009 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  10. Lori

    Wasn't Scott Murphy struggling in the polls until the Dems brought in their Big Gun- President Obama? Isn't it crazy that a Republican has to be more like a Democrat to have a chance to win electins these days. Says something, doesn't it conservatives? If Christie wins the primaries, I wonder how his pro-abortion rights and gun control stance will go down with all the right-wing nut jobs that angrily attack us liberals b/c we are for abortion rights and gun control. Hmmmm!!!

    But still this is New Jersey and all I'll say is NY-20!!!

    June 2, 2009 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  11. James M. Holmes

    No suprise the "moderate" is in the lead... Americans are fed up with the radical right wing of the GOP that has hijacked that party...

    The Limbaugh / Cheney / Newt wing is killing the GOP and if the moderates don't stand up soon to these radicals, they might as well from a 3rd party... beacuase as long as Rush, Cheney, etc. keep speaking for the GOP, Americans will continue their hard charge left!

    That siad, I'm pretty sure most "moderates" have already left the GOP!

    June 2, 2009 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  12. Evie

    A GOP win in NJ? NOT. GONNA. HAPPEN. Period. dont even waste your breath.

    June 2, 2009 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  13. mary

    This abortion thing is getting under my skin. Gun totting guys who can shoot and kill, who refuse to take contraceptives, who don't know what it is like to be pregnant- they should shut up and find ways of developing wombs for men; then they can have the right to decide what women do with their bodies!!!

    June 2, 2009 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  14. andrea

    It is the case of worse or worst. They simply differ in their degree of conservatism and indifference to the fortunes of the working and middle classes. They are both anti-women's rights although Christie is subtler. They will both manipulate the tax code to benefit the upper class at the expense of the woking and middles classes. They will both reduce social spending, increase tax breaks for industry, dismantle or weaken our environmental protection laws, and they will privatize government services, which in the end shall cost the public more money (as the Whitman experiments showed). Also as Whitman, they will both borrow, not to spend on our roads, bridges, and schools, but to finance tax cuts for the rich.

    June 2, 2009 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  15. Pee Wee

    With incredibly high taxes, extreme loss of their manufacturing base due to exorbitant costs of union and government intrusion resulting in basically a service economy, it's no wonder.

    What is produced in New Jersey anymore?

    It's very simple to know why so many jobs have been outsourced, labor costs. This adds to the cost of products at market and reduces the competitiveness of US goods. Don't get me wrong, an honest day's work deserves an honest day's pay and all should be able to earn a living wage, but when costs at non-union plants are nearly half of what they are at US plants (e.g. automakers), the equation is quite simple.

    The days of unions are over. They have served their purpose and it was quite noble, ending abuse of workers. Since so many legislative hurdles have now been put in to place, I think it is time to revisit some of these areas and look for places to cut costs. Not all of the red-tape is necessary. I have friends that work for Honda here in Ohio (non-union) and know US automaker employees. Both do well financially, but one is in a company that is still producing, granted, at a slowed pace. The other is now working for a bankrupt company.

    This isn't the end all be all of an explanation, but it is a start and definitely is part of the problem.

    June 2, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  16. Doug, New Jersey

    One out of every four in this state recieve goverment money.

    We have the highest property taxes, #2 gaming income in this country, highest population per square mile, and one of the highest incomes per person as well. Yet the libs in Trenton have the state bankrupt.

    It would seem like a no brainer to kick the libs out and fix the state. However, there are millions of nasty hateful libs in this state who bleed evil, greed, and selfishness, aka your classic liberal Democrat.

    All the money isn't used to help all the people. The lib mobsters run the game and the sheep libs just go baaah.

    If you question how lib the state is and think a republican could win, well just drive around and witness the libness for yourself. Just please, if you have kids, get some life insurance before you drive on the roads with all of the evil libs who have no regard for American life at all, only the lives of terrorists.

    June 2, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  17. grammar rocks!

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

    A typo in the very first line! Shame on you, CNN... has the recession caused you to lay off all of your writers with any knowledge of the English language? Terrible!

    June 2, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |