Author: Rory B. Bellows
Okay, I know campaigns do not heat up until after Labor Day, but it sure looks like Chris Christie is content to run the Thomas Dewey Campaign. He is saying nothing and campaigning on nothing. The number one issue for New Jersey voters is property taxes. Every poll confirms this. The web ad on the front of Christiefornj.com never mentions the topic. Yes, it highlights the miserable economic condition of New Jersey, but it does nothing to define Chris Christie. Jon Corzine is spending millions to portray Christie as a Bush clone. The only way Christie can lose this race is if Jon Corzine is able to paint Christie as an unacceptable alternative.
Christie’s campaign is banking on the fact that the disapproval ratings for Jon Corzine are so high that voters in this state would elect anyone other than Jon the Taxer this November. This is a faulty assumption. While Chritie polls ahead of Corzine, the RealClearPolitics average shows him under 50% for the first time since he won the Republican nomination. Since Christie won the Republican nomination, not a day goes by where you do not see television ads that link Chris Christie to George Bush. Christie does not yet have the money to counter these ads so the only story told about Christie is the one Jon Corzine wants you to hear. Corzine’s negative attacks will hurt Christie. Democrats in New Jersey enjoy a huge natural advantage in party identification and there is a third party candidate in Chris Daggett who will raise enough money to qualify for matching campaign funds and participate in the debates. While Corzine is busy defining Christie, disaffected Democrats and Independents could either go home to Corzine or register their protest by voting third party.
Christie can easily nip any slip in the polls in the bud. Ironically, this involves Christie becoming a Bush clone. Former President Bush defined his campaigns by his ability to stay on message and drive a point home. In 2004, the White House steward would ask what he wanted for breakfast and he would respond with some variation of “You know where I stand. My opponent was for the $87 billion before he was against it”. Christie needs to adopt this single mindedness towards property taxes. Every appearance Christie makes, every press release his campaign puts out and every web ad his media team creates should focus on property taxes and Christie’s plan to cut them. The media section of Christie’s website only lists one release the entire summer that included property taxes in the title.
While voter attention will peak in the coming weeks, it was foolish for Christie not to prepare the electorate to believe that he is the man who can bring property taxes under control. Yes, last month’s massive corruption arrests provided Christie with some low-hanging fruit. Yes, it was easy to pounce on Jon Corzine for failing to deliver on ethics reform. However, New Jersey has been a massively corrupt state since Moses was in short pants. Voters just do not care. They did not care in 2005 coming off the resignation of Jim McGreevey. They did not care in 2006, 2007 or 2008. Republicans tried to make corruption in an issue in each of those election cycles and the electorate was so inspired that Republicans could not top 43% of the vote. By focusing on small issues, Christie is blowing the opportunity to define himself on the big issue.