While New Jersey Democrats tried to minimize their loss, Republicans said the defeat of Jon Corzine by former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie is spelling a new era of success for the state’s GOP and perhaps greater support among Jews.
“People we had on the ground in Jewish areas felt Christie did well among Jewish voters,” said Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks.
Flush with victory the morning after Christie unseated Corzine by four percentage points, 49 to 45, Brooks told NJ Jewish News many Jewish voters felt “buyers’ remorse” about supporting President Barack Obama in 2008, and deserted the Democratic gubernatorial candidate for Christie.
“I don’t think Israel was a primary issue for the Orthodox or other Jewish voters in New Jersey, but I’m sure that for a segment of the Jewish community, having Obama campaign for Corzine in the closing days of the election was not necessarily the best endorsement Corzine could have had,” Brooks said.
Unlike his Republican counterpart, Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said he believes Obama’s three visits to New Jersey did not hurt Corzine.
“The president is the head of the party, and it was the right thing to do to help out,” he told NJJN. “The president’s approval numbers are in the high 50s, and those are real good numbers.”
Forman said Corzine paid the price for a stagnant economy.
“There was clearly unhappiness with the economy and the vast majority of voters would agree it’s not something a governor controls,” said Forman. “But they still take it out on governors, and I guess that’s what happened here.”
Jill LaZare, an attorney from Summit who directed NJDC’s outreach for Corzine in north Jersey, also said the deciding issues were local.
“People were very angry about the economy and blamed whoever was in office; in this case it was Gov. Corzine,” she said. “The Corzine campaign failed to get across how much he has done to help the economy. The message that got across was: ‘The economy is terrible and we need a change.’”
The Bergen factor
Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, suggested Corzine “underperformed” among Jewish voters, normally a reliable Democratic base.
A case in point, he said, was the Bergen County township of Teaneck, with a large Jewish population, including a sizeable Orthodox community.
“In a gubernatorial year, Teaneck should deliver a plurality for the Democrats of 6,700 votes,” said Dworkin. “Democrats in Bergen County count on that big plurality in order to overcome many smaller towns that go Republican. This year, Democrats won in Teaneck by only 5,600 votes.
“That’s underperforming,” he said.
Dworkin noted that State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a Jewish resident of Teaneck, was Corzine’s running-mate for lieutenant governor.
Robert Yudin, a Wyckoff appliance dealer who chairs the Bergen County Republican Organization, sees “national implications” in Christie’s triumph.
“For a Republican with conservative credentials to win in a state with 700,000 more Democrats than Republicans means Christie will be a national player, and he has shown the kind of Republican we need to take back the White House,” he said.
Although his candidate lost Bergen County by 3,700 votes, Yudin pointed out that Republican Doug Forrester finished 32,000 votes behind Corzine there four years ago.
“This is a huge turnaround. Corzine needed to do very well in Bergen County, and he didn’t.”
Dworkin doubted the vote had such clear party implications.
“This is a situation where the myth becomes reality,” Dworkin said. “I think most people voted based on New Jersey issues. I don’t think they were voting to send a message on health care or Afghanistan or the bailout. But because everyone in the national press is going to insist that it is a premonition of what is going to happen in 2010 in the midterm elections, it will take on a life of its own.”
As a result, he added, “Republicans, because they won in New Jersey, will be able to raise more money, recruit better candidates, and therefore probably find more success in the 2010 elections than if they had lost.”