Governor No Help (to Republicans) in 12th District
A strongly entrenched Republican in a Republican-leaning district where the Democratic governor is very unpopular among core voters should be a shoo-in for re-election. But Ellen Karcher, the Democratic challenger, appears to be leading John Bennett, the Republican incumbent, by a margin of 43%-37% according to the most recent poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind. If leaners are included, Karcher’s lead diminishes slightly to 44%-40% -- a spread that falls within the survey sample’s margin of error of +/- 5 percentage points.
Governor Jim McGreevey has been unpopular statewide and likely voters in the 12th district feel no differently: 65% say the state is off on the wrong track; 79% rate his job performance as fair or poor; 58% say they have an unfavorable opinion of the Governor; and only 21% think he deserves re-election. These voters also say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who is a strong supporter of the governor and more likely to vote for a candidate who is a strong opponent of the governor. “But the Governor’s unpopularity is not benefiting Republicans in this district,” said Bruce Larson, a professor of political science and survey analyst at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Democratic voters in the district, while critical of the Governor, are solidly behind Karcher, while Republican defections are a problem for Bennett. Just 10% of Democratic voters are crossing party lines to vote for Bennett; 21% of Republicans are defecting to Karcher. “Unless he can solidify support from his base voters, Bennett could have a difficult time on election day,” Larson noted. Independents at this point are split evenly three ways: a third for Karcher, a third Bennett and a third undecided.
“The issue shaping this Senate election so far is not McGreevey, it is voters’ perception of Bennett,” Larson added. Nearly half (48%) give the incumbent an unfavorable rating -- close to the same percentage (51%) that gave the Governor an unfavorable rating in a recent statewide PublicMind poll. Only one-third (33%) say the incumbent Senator has done an excellent or good job. A majority (54%) rate his performance as only fair or poor. “A series of very critical news stories may have had a major impact,” said Larson.
Issues should favor the Republican candidate. Voters in the 12th district say controlling taxes and spending should be the top priority of the Governor and legislature in the coming year, and they say Republicans do a better job than Democrats on these issues. “That taxes and spending are top issues for voters in New Jersey is not news,” said Larson. “That these two issues don’t translate into solid support for a well-known and powerful Republican legislator is news.”
The PublicMind survey was taken of 402 very likely voters in the 12th legislative district. The survey was conducted from October 3 through October 7 and has a margin of error of +/- 5 percentage points.
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