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A Tale of Two Races

The two charts at Pollster.com vividly depict the very different trajectories of the two Republican gubernatorial candidates who will face the voters two weeks from today. Bob McDonnell is cruising, while Chris Christie has entirely lost his commanding lead in the polls. What explains it?

For starters, New Jersey isn’t Virginia. The anti-Obama-agenda campaign that McDonnell has successfully waged in Virginia wouldn’t fly in New Jersey. Obama’s popularity has certainly suffered there too, but New Jersey as a whole remains a hard-core Blue State with a 600,000-person advantage in party registration.

Then there’s the matter of the Independent, Chris Daggett, who has bedeviled Christie, just as Ross Perot did George H.W. Bush in 1992. He’s now polling above 10 percent, with an increase in fund-raising and ads. For New Jersey voters fed up with Gov. Jon Corzine but allergic to voting Republican, Daggett provides an easy out.

And yes, the race has become increasingly nasty, with charges and countercharges flying. But that’s nothing new in New Jersey politics.

The bottom line is that while Corzine remains exceptionally unpopular (Pollster.com’s average polling data shows a stunning 56.9 percent of those surveyed disapprove while only 36.9 approve), Christie hasn’t closed the deal with his own candidacy and was late to recognize the threat from the Independent. Christie will need to make the case, if he is to prevent a come-from-behind victory by Corzine, that any vote other than for him is a vote for the Corzine administration and its atrocious record of high taxes, lost businesses, and the like.

In the moment of truth at the voting booth, however, the undecideds may break against the incumbent, as they usually do, supplying the margin of victory for Christie. But in the next two weeks, Christie will have to convince those voters that they shouldn’t throw their vote away on a protest candidate who can’t unseat the unpopular governor. Otherwise Corzine will slip back into office, once again suggesting that New Jersey voters still haven’t figured out how to remove Democrats who don’t do their jobs.