President Obama got what he wanted for Christmas. Trees are being trimmed and, like a bunch of elves after too much eggnog, New Jersey’s Body Politic is already getting merry about our gubernatorial election next year.
As sure as New Year’s follows Christmas, speculation about our next governor begins immediately after – sometimes before- voting for president ends. Jersey and Virginia are the only two states that elect their chief executive in the so-called “off” years right after the four-year presidential cycle.
That means NJ voters will go to polls again in November 2013 … less than a year.
The upcoming election may be less than exciting, particularly in comparison to the war waged by Obama and Mitt Romney. Incumbent Gov. Chris Christie said recently that he wants a second term, and his popularity ratings are in the stratosphere. New polls show the already well-liked governor’s approval ratings rocketed after his masterful handling of Hurricane Sandy.
Christie has become nationally known, first for his wide travels in support of Romney and other GOP candidates and, second, for his take-no-prisoners “Joisey” style. He even appeared last month as a guest on Saturday Night Live. (A recent “poll” showed the Republican governor would beat even Bruce Springsteen., though there’s no indication the Boss wants the job.)
But political axioms are never to be ignored, however clichéd. Never say never. The fat lady has not sung. And the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day. Believing that, at least publically, a line of Democrats has already formed.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a media darling himself, is considered by many to be the only Dem who could give Christie a run. But Booker, who graduated from Stanford University, Yale Law School, and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, can read polls as well as anybody.
He’s already said to be thinking that a better play would be to run for the US Senate in 2014 if Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who’s 88, retires. Booker’s exploits as mayor have been wildly followed on Twitter. But he found trouble in paradise when a near riot broke out at Newark City Council meeting last month as the mayor he tried to muscle his candidate on to the council to fill a vacancy. He was booed when he returned for second try two weeks later. This week, Booker has himself on food stamps to show solidarity with the poor.
State Sen. Richard Codey - who served as governor for 14 months following the November 2004 resignation of then - Gov. Jim McGreevey - as well as Senate President Steve Sweeny, Sen. Barbara Buono and Assembly members Lou Greenwald and John Wisniewski are also considering a challenge. Codey was popular during his un-elected tenure, but none are considered real contenders.
As for the Governor, he stirred the pot a bit himself a bit last week when he seemed to dismiss the prospect of running again on a ticket with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. “I don’t know what she wants, so we’ll talk,” the governor told reporters, which sound a little bit like, “Kim who?” A week later, Christie reported they had their talk and Guadagno would remain his running mate.
With 11 months to go before he faces voters, Christie still faces battles. He looked and sounded good after the storm, but now he must actually lead the state’s long and very expensive healing. Christie’s critics and some actual statistics argue that the state economy’s “Jersey Comeback” he touts hasn’t happened. And he’ll have to forge yet another tough budget to plug up a massively indebted government in a state with the nation’s highest property taxes and a $30-plus billion debt. Layoffs and programs cuts generally cost votes.
Bob McHugh is a former journalist and spokesman for NJ Govs. Tom Kean and Christie Whitman.