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Opinion: Christie Needs to Run on His Own Record, Not Corzine's

Four years ago qualifies as ancient history for many voters, a forward-looking candidate is more likely to garner support

carl golden

The early strategy emerging from the Christie reelection campaign appears to be one of reminding voters of the four years served by the man he defeated in 2009 and warning that a vote for his Democratic opponent this November is tantamount to a return to those days.

The governor’s public comments, as well as those of his Republican legislative allies, are peppered with references to 
“Corzine Democrats,” while arguing that a vote for the presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Middlesex County state Sen. Barbara Buono, will return to an era they claim was one of tax increases and out-of-control government spending.

Campaign hyperbole aside, it must be noted that, in 2009, 
1,087,731 voters supported a second term for Jon Corzine, 86,714 fewer than the 1,174,445 who voted for change by supporting Christie. Breaking it down further, if 44,000 voters had shifted from Christie to Corzine – an average of 2,100 per county -- the Democrat would be wrapping up his second term about now.

There are those who remain convinced that Corzine’s loss can be attributed to a lack of enthusiasm on the part of party leaders, his perceived air of aloofness, and an inability to grasp the often harsh political realities on which victory rests.

Blaming one’s predecessor isn’t anything new, of course. President Barack Obama spent 2009 pleading for patience while he dealt with problems he claimed were inherited from President George Bush.

The strategy, though, has a limited shelf-life. Sooner or later, people grow restive and remind their chief executives that they now have the responsibility of the office and pointing accusatory fingers at those who came before sounds like a political dodge.

It’s been said that the only thing shorter than voters’ attention span is their memory. By voting for change, whether for president, governor, or mayor, they place their faith in a candidate, hoping he or she will move forward -- rather than look backward -- and confront the problems of their nation, state, or community.

There is a willingness to cut a newly elected leader some slack, but it isn’t endless.

For the Christie campaign, ginning up outrage over Corzine’s four years and attributing what it sees as failures or missteps to Buono and legislative Democrats is problematic.

Democrats, for instance, retained control of the Legislature in 2009 and in the 2011 mid-term elections, (although the new legislative district map lopsidedly favored incumbents and played a role in the outcome). The level of anger with incumbents in those years fell well short of that experienced in 1991 when Republicans seized control by riding a groundswell of opposition to Gov. Jim Florio’s $2.8 billion tax increase program.

Christie, in office since January 2010, holds ownership of the last four state budgets, as well as his Administration’s policies and priorities.

He has dealt shrewdly with the Legislature and -- through reaching accommodations with leaders in and out of government -- has succeeded in racking up significant accomplishments.

In his recent appearances, he has touted his tax cut proposal and accused the Democratic legislative leadership of blocking it because they remain “Corzine Democrats,” whose DNA doesn’t include a tax cut strand.

In point of fact, the tax cut plan he’s promoting -- a four-year phase-in of a credit up to $1,000 against the state income tax based on property taxes paid -- was developed by Senate President Steve Sweeney as an alternative to the governor’s initial call for a 10 percent across-the-board reduction in tax rates. Christie glommed onto the Sweeney plan when it became clear his was dead on arrival.

Democrats have refused to take up the proposal because, they say, it is unaffordable in light of the continuing shortfall in tax revenues. Christie, however, has responded with a “trust me on this,” saying he’ll find the money somewhere in the budget.

For her part, Buono continues to criticize Christie for the state’s four years of unemployment in excess of nine percent and for what she says is the governor’s disregard for middle- and low-income New Jerseyans, including his veto of an increase in the minimum wage and cuts in spending for healthcare services and aid to local governments and school districts.

She continues to struggle with name recognition and fundraising. She remains lodged in the 30 percent or less range of support, while Christie enjoys double that. She is not helped, either, by the tepid support of the party establishment, several of whom have forged mutually beneficial working relationships with Christie.

If the general consensus is accurate -- that Christie will be reelected by a comfortable margin -- it is to his benefit that victory follow a campaign concentrated on an upbeat assessment of his first term.

His future prospects -- whatever they may be -- will be enhanced by a re-election based on a positive portrayal of his term rather than a negative narrative of an administration that ended nearly four years ago and which most people have already forgotten.

Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

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