By Alan Steinberg | July 23rd, 2009 - 4:04pm
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There is no evidence that Governor Jon Corzine personally is connected in any way to the alleged criminal deeds that form the basis of the arrests of politicians, political operatives, and rabbis announced today by the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s office.  His Community Affairs Commissioner Joe Doria, who resigned this morning at Corzine’s request, is being investigated, although we do not yet know what the outcome of the investigation will be.  If Doria is indicted, this would implicate the Corzine administration, although not Corzine himself.

Regardless of whether or not Doria is indicted, however, Corzine has lost the only strategy that could reelect him – an onslaught of television commercials attacking the ethics of his Republican opponent and former U.S.Attorney Chris Christie.  The Corzine reelection campaign is now all but doomed.

Whether you like or dislike him, Chris Christie is a highly ethical and moral man - a point I have repeatedly stressed, even in articles where I criticized his positions and the strategy of his campaign.  The Corzine commercials attacking Christie’s ethics have been distortions, plain and simple.

Yet, in the words of the famous Chicago author Finley Peter Dunne, “politics ain’t beanbag.”  Although these Corzine commercials have been distortions, they are well within the bounds of what is unfortunately considered to be acceptable political tactics by pundits and consultants of both parties.

These commercials also had a chance of being effective.  According to the Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll released last week, a surprisingly high 34% of all registered voters had no opinion of Chris Christie.  Since January, 2009, in terms of favorable/unfavorable ratings, Christie’s favorables had only increased by one point, and his unfavorables had climbed by twelve.  Christie’s eight point lead among likely voters, 45%-37% was very soft – roughly 35% of these likely Christie voters indicated that they could change their mind.  So Christie was vulnerable to a negative attack strategy, even on ethics, which ironically is his strongpoint.

Moreover, it was clear that only a negative strategy could win reelection for Jon Corzine.  The Monmouth/Gannett poll released two days ago proved most graphically that it was impossible for Corzine to convey any positive winning message – he averaged a C- grade from the electorate and a 51% disapproval rating. 

Now, with today’s announcements of the arrests, the Corzine negative strategy has been rendered totally ineffectual.  The public is aware that Chris Christie shepherded this investigation during his tenure, and this gives him a shield of invulnerability on ethics issues.  Most significantly, however, the “New Jersey culture of corruption issue”, which had registered as a top issue with only 5% of all likely voters in the Monmouth/Gannett Poll is now certain to skyrocket.  This is an issue which Chris Christie owns.

So now, Corzine is left with no possibly effective negative strategy against Christie.  If Joe Doria is charged with any crime, the former U.S. Attorney’s status as a corruption fighter is certain to propel him to a landslide victory rivalling that of Bill Cahill in 1969, Brendan Byrne in 1973, and Tom Kean in 1985.

I never took seriously the thought of Corzine withdrawing from the race a la Bob Torricelli in the 2002 New Jersey U.S. Senate race.  But I do now.  Query:  Is that Dick Codey I see putting on his running shoes?

Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and seven federally recognized Indian nations.   

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