TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The commanding lead Republican Gov. Chris Christie maintains in the New Jersey governor's race is causing jitters among some Democrats running down-ballot for normally safe seats in the Legislature.
Although the majority party is expected to retain control of the state Senate and Assembly in Tuesday's election, some Democrats are anxious about some Republicans riding Christie's coattails with his name topping the ticket. Polls have shown him maintaining a 20-plus-point lead over Democrat Barbara Buono in a state that leans Democratic.
Christie, whose only elected political experience prior to becoming governor was one term as a freeholder in Morris County, upset incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine 48 to 45 percent in 2009.
The possible 2016 presidential contender has a lot more money than the challenger to spend in this campaign's final days. He is hoping a landslide victory will show that a Republican can do well in a state with 700,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans.
Pollster Patrick Murray describes Democrats as "tentatively confident" of holding onto their 24-16 margin in the Senate and 48-32 advantage in the Assembly, but he says some are "nervous" that Christie's tentacles could tip a race or two to the GOP.
"I would hope the message of the day is that they have been in control for 10 years, and people are voting for Chris Christie because they like his policies," said Assembly Republican leader Jon Bramnick. "Why not give Republicans a chance" to control the Legislature?
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, says that's not going to happen.
"On Tuesday, the Democrats will maintain majorities in both houses and possibly expand a little bit," he said. "I don't expect us to lose anything."
The state GOP with Christie at the helm is pouring end-of-campaign resources into three legislative areas with competitive races: District 14 in Middlesex and Mercer counties; District 18, which includes Buono's Middlesex County; and District 38, a historically competitive district in Bergen and Passaic counties. Additionally, Districts 1, 2 and 3 are represented by Democrats but are in the conservative southern reaches of the state.
The outcomes of some races could hinge on turnout. For example, does Buono's underdog status mean some Democratic voters will stay home? Or, does Christie's big lead suppress Republican turnout? (The governor and lieutenant governor are barnstorming the state by bus through Tuesday to encourage voting.) Is there voter fatigue following a special election for U.S. Senate held just three weeks ago and won by former Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat?
New Jersey voters, the majority of whom are unaffiliated, are willing to "ticket-split," Murray said. But it's an open question how many will vote for Christie, then cross parties to vote for Democratic legislative candidates.