New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s record poll numbers for his handling of Hurricane Sandy may fall before next year’s election as he faces high unemployment and a revenue crunch in a state where Democrats hold a 3-2 edge over Republicans among registered voters.
Christie’s 2009 ouster of Democrat Jon Corzine was the first time a Republican won the governor’s office since 1997. The state hasn’t elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1972 and chose a Democrat in the past six presidential votes.
Yet riding a bounce of approval for his response to Sandy, Christie led his nearest potential Democratic challenger, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, by 18 percentage points, a survey released today by Quinnipiac University shows.
“It’s a rally-around-the-flag syndrome right now,” said Brigid Harrison, who teaches law and government at Montclair State University. “Over the next days, weeks and even months, you’ll see a Democrat emerge and start to look for chinks.”
Christie has risen in voter surveys since Sandy inundated much of the state’s coastline Oct. 29 and left 38 dead. In a Quinnipiac poll last week, 95 percent rated Christie’s handling of the disaster good or excellent. It showed him with a 72 percent approval rating, its highest ever for a governor.
Before the storm, Christie led Booker by 4 percentage points. Booker, 43, is midway through his second four-year term as mayor of the state’s largest city. A graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School, he entered the national spotlight when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg pledged $100 million to help improve city schools.
The governor, speaking to reporters today in Trenton, said he doesn’t expect his poll numbers to stay so high.
“That will come back down to earth,” Christie said. “I enjoy that as much as the next guy, but I’ve seen this movie before and that will come back down.”
In the days after Sandy, national Republican figures knocked Christie’s praise for President Barack Obama’s storm aid. The governor raised money and campaigned for Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The New Jersey leader has also pledged to work with Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation, including Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez.
Democrats favored Booker in a primary matchup with 41 percent over four other potential candidates, including state Senator Richard Codey, who got the next-highest support at 12 percent in the Quinnipiac poll. Codey served as governor for 14 months after James McGreevey resigned in 2004.
The list also included state Senator Barbara Buono of Metuchen, Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald of Cherry Hill and Democratic State Chairman John Wisniewski, an Assemblyman from Sayreville.
Maurice Carroll, director of Quinnipiac’s polling institute, said Christie has a strong position heading into an election year.
“Is this good for him? You bet,” Carroll said in an interview in Trenton. “Is it a guarantee that he can move in for another four years? No. But it’s likely.”
Missed revenue targets may give Democrats an opening to exploit. Collections must rise 9.9 percent for the next eight months to meet his budget goal of an 8.4 percent increase in tax receipts from the previous year, according to the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services. For the first four months of fiscal 2013, the rise was 3.4 percent.
“The revenue shortfall is a serious story that’s going to have serious implications if we are several hundred millions of dollars out of balance come January,” Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville, said Nov. 26. “The possibility of midyear budget cuts is very real.”
Christie is unlikely to hold the commanding position he now enjoys, Carroll said. He said the governor’s favorable numbers probably will revert to his historic average. In four previous 2012 polls, he averaged 55 percent. About a fifth of New Jersey voters will always back Democrats, Carroll said.
Since taking office in January 2010, Christie has won overhauls of pensions and health care for state workers, as well as a property-tax cap from the Democrats who run the Legislature. He has shouted down a Navy SEAL and other detractors at his signature town-hall style meetings.
Democrats hold an advantage of almost 703,000 registered voters over Republicans in the state. Independents make up almost half the electorate, outnumbering both major parties at 2.62 million.
“In New Jersey, voters make us work for our victories,” said Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, a Republican from Little Silver. “It’s never a walk in the park in New Jersey. You have to earn things here. That’s good.”