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Commentary: NJ Battleground in November?

Sunday, June 06, 2004

A Quinnipiac University Poll released last week provided a shock for politics junkies - New Jersey, generally considered a safe state for John Kerry, showed up as a statistical tie between Kerry and President Bush. But WNYC's Brian Lehrer says most experts do not expect a Bayonne-to-Bergen Battleground.

Brian Lehrer: The headline number was that Kerry was leading in NJ by only 3 points: 47-44 percent. That's within the margin of error, making it a statistical tie. The survey was conducted from May 10th-16th on 1100 registered voters. Further troubling for Kerry, only about a quarter gave him a positive approval rating. Another quarter were negative and the rest were mixed or didn't know.

On my weekday call-in show Tuesday, Al Gore's 2000 campaign manager Donna Brazile said Kerry cannot take New Jersey for granted even it shows up in the Democratic blue state column on everyone's political maps.

Donna Brazile: Kerry's got to show up and campaign here

Republicans, of course, are encouraged by the poll results, and argue that New Jersey's losses on 9/11 have made it a more conservative state than before, especially on Bush's best issue - the war on terrorism. Democrats are trying to minimize the result. But two analysts we checked with both say the stat is being blown out of proportion. Cliff Zukin, director of the Eagleton Poll at Rutgers University, and Fox News Analyst Dick Morris both say Kerry has little reason to worry. Zukin says a state that currently has Democrats as governor, both US Senators and the majority in both houses of the legislator is highly unlikely to vote for Bush. Dick Morris cites history.

Dick Morris: A tie early on means the state will eventually go to the challenger in 90 percent of cases.

As in many states, it looks like Democrats in New Jersey don't like Bush but are not being moved by Kerry. Thirteen percent of independents say they are currently supporting Nader.

All things being equal, Kerry will probably win in NJ without too much trouble. Gore won by 16 points. But a little more polling like this, and the Kerry campaign may be faced with a tough decision: spend precious time and money in the expensive New York and Philadelphia media markets, or risk taking New Jersey for granted.

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