The New Jersey governor’s race looked to be the only highlight of an otherwise barren slate of election contests in 2013. Incumbent Chris Christie is a GOP and YouTube star, but he had made a lot of enemies in his four years in office. More importantly, the Democrats have their own rising superstar in Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who seemed likely to be able to give Christie a stiff challenge. But after the latest round of polling of Garden State voters, Booker may be thinking that it might be smarter to wait another year and try for a Senate seat.
With the governor’s efforts to help the state recover from Hurricane Sandy and his controversial embrace of President Obama fresh in their minds, the latest Quinnipiac University poll shows Christie with an astonishing 72 percent approval rating. The numbers are more convincing when you break them down, as even Democrats support the governor’s performance by a 52-39 percent margin. Christie is given the thumbs-up from every demographic group including independents (77 percent), women (70 percent), blacks (55 percent) and Hispanics (66 percent).
While these numbers are bound to come down, any expectation that Christie’s union foes will be able to take their revenge on him this year must be considered unlikely. That means Booker may decide that a gubernatorial run would be a mistake that could derail a seemingly bright political future.
Democrats had hoped that once the governor’s initial successes in the legislature were in the past, they would be able to turn Christie’s tough-guy persona into a weakness rather than strength. But that hasn’t happened, as his abrasive governing style has won more cheers than jeers.
Christie’s obvious interest in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination might also have been a drawback for voters, but that also doesn’t seem to be hurting him. Given that even the start of a presidential run wouldn’t come until he was more than a year into his second term, it’s hard to argue that Christie is using Trenton as a stepping stone to the White House.
More important, that embrace of Obama that so rankled Republicans around the nation is playing very well in this very blue state. Indeed, the bitter criticism he has taken for his fulsome praise of the president in the last week of the 2012 campaign actually helps Christie’s chances to be re-elected even if it diminishes his appeal among Republicans. Though it can be argued that Christie’s response to the federal help that arrived in the wake of the hurricane was emotional rather than calculated, his gesture was exactly what he needed to establish himself in the eyes of New Jersey voters as a man who rose above politics in a crisis.
Though Booker may hanker after the governor’s seat, this ought to alert him to the fact that 2013 may not be a very good year for New Jersey Democrats, especially the Democrat who will be facing Christie. In 2014, Senator Frank Lautenberg will turn 90 and unless he decides to try to challenge Strom Thurmond’s age record, there is a good chance he will retire. Though the line of Democrats hoping to win what should be a safe seat will be long, Booker would be at the head of the list. Though he strikes me as the sort of person who would rather run something than spend his life in a talking shop like the Senate, that would seem to be the wiser choice for Booker right now.
Whether Christie can parlay a triumph next year into a credible presidential run is a question for another day. But whatever Booker’s decision turns out to be, Christie must be considered a solid favorite to be re-elected.