Friday, December 23, 2011

Redistricting Commission Combines 8 and 9

First, let’s drop the pretense that districts 5 and 9 were combined.  They weren’t.
John Farmer said that he went into this process believing that the delegation should be split 6-6 and that the most likely candidates for merger were the Democratic 8th (Pascrell) and 9th(Rothman).  He said that former Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts convinced him that the voters – or at least those in north Jersey – should decide whether the state’s delegation should be 7-5 or 6-6.  To do this would mean combining districts 5 and 9.
So, then why did Farmer vote for a map that combined 8 and 9?  Let’s look at the numbers for the new District 9 (which is supposed to be the old District 8).  Of the total population of 732,658 in the new district, 54% are currently represented by Rothman and 43% are represented by Pascrell.  (Another 3% are represented by Scot Garret in the 5th). 
Remember – this is supposed to be Pascrell’s district, but less than half of his current constituents live in “his” new district.  [This would have given Alan “Continuity of Representation” Rosenthal conniptions.]
In the new 5th – which is supposed to be the “combined” district – 80% of then population is currently represented by Garrett and just 20% is represented by Rothman!  Yes, you read that right.  Four-fifths of this so-called “fair fight” district is from the current Republican district.
So how did Farmer justify calling the new 5th the combine district rather than the new 9th?  Umm, because Rothman’s current hometown was part of the move to the 5th – even though the VAST majority of Rothman’s constituents are now in “Pascrell’s district.”
Another fallacy espoused by Farmer is that the new 3rd is now a competitive district.  Umm, how do you figure that one?  I don’t even need to run the numbers to know that taking out Democratic stronghold Cherry Hill and replacing it with the Republican town of Brick makes this already Republican-leaning district less competitive, rather than more.  Sure, they threw in a few more Delaware River towns, but the claim that this district is competitive is patently false.  I’m left wondering if Farmer had his own stats person to validate the Republican’s numbers, or if he simply took the GOP claim at face value.
Now, let me make this perfectly clear – I am not criticizing John Farmer’s decision to side with the GOP.  I’ve seen the Democrats’ map.  It looks eerily similar to the Republican one.
The 7th and 12th districts in both maps are much more compact than the current configurations, although both leave the 6th – shown by independent analysis to be one of the least compact districts in the country – as a bizarre coastal snake.  Both maps added Brick to the 3rd, although the Dems made it less compact in order to keep it competitive.
Albio Sires district underwent drastic changes in geography in both maps, with both side lopping off the non-contiguous Middlesex County portion of the current 13th and moving it further into Hudson.  Both maps also included the little “Plainfield hook” on the northern end of district 12.  [By the way, Rush Holt got a nice gift in this map – a safe and relatively compact district.]
Both maps fetishly preserved Chris Smith’s hometown of Hamilton (i.e. the place where he rents an apartment) Robbinsville (where he owns a dwelling - according to a staffer who emailed me after seeing this column) in the 4th, but the Republicans got closer to making this into the costal district that it should be. 
The Democrats District 5 is only slightly better than the GOP’s from a community of interest standpoint, but they fell into the unfortunate east-west vertical map drawing on districts 11 and 7 that has epitomized the bad maps of the past.
So, I really have little criticism of Farmer’s eventual choice.  It certainly is not an ideal map, and I’m not ready to say that is a good map.  But it certainly is a better map than the one we have now, and perhaps slightly better than the one submitted by the Democrats, where they perhaps overreached by creating more competitive districts in both the 5th and the 3rd.
My one complaint is that John Farmer should be honest about the map.  He said at the opening of today’s vote that his intention at the outset of this process was to look for a map that gave the state delegation a 6-6 split and combined the two northeastern Democratic districts.  That’s exactly what he voted for and he should be willing to admit it.

P.S.  I'm not sure whether I can claim a "win" for predicting Farmer's preference here.  I said a fair fight 5 v. 9 would appeal to him.  That's what he claimed we got, so I would be right by that standard, but that's not what the numbers say we got.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How Iowa Will Sink Ron Paul

Sure, I know Iowa’s nearly two weeks away.  But I’m taking next week off, so I thought I’d go out on a limb and make some predictions now about the January 3rd caucuses.
Barack Obama will win the Democratic caucus in a landslide.  OK, that was too easy.  Let me take a stab at the Republican race.
For a while, it looked like Newt Gingrich was the one to beat, but the latest state and national polls show his popularity sliding.  As I observed in a previous column, all the other ABM (Anybody but Mitt) candidates enjoyed five to six week upswings in their poll numbers followed by sharp drop-offs.  Gingrich reached the six-week mark about 7 days ago – and right on cue, his poll numbers started to tumble.  [I’m beginning to think that an ADD epidemic has struck one-fifth of the GOP primary electorate.  The predictability of their fickleness is uncanny – and unnerving.]
Gingrich will continue to go down, and no matter what share of the vote he takes in Iowa, if he doesn’t win it, he will have performed below expectations.  And that is what will be focused on – performance against somewhat arbitrary, and often erroneous, expectations.
This brings us to Ron Paul.  He is surging in Iowa (and experiencing a slight but noticeable increase in his national support).  Among the four Iowa polls out this week, he leads the pack by 3 to 6 points in three polls (Insider Advantage, Iowa State U, PPP) and places second to Mitt Romney by 5 points in one (Rasmussen).
Are the polls accurate - will Ron Paul win Iowa?  It’s really too early to tell.  Iowa caucus polls are notoriously unstable even in the final weeks.  We saw this for both parties’ caucuses in 2008.  It wasn’t until the final Des Moines Register poll conducted just days before the last caucuses that we got a fairly accurate read of what would happen.
Dave Peterson from Iowa State’s Harkin Institute, one of the academics behind that poll, remarked, “I think Paul probably under-polls.”  I actually think it’s the opposite in this case – Paul is now over-polling, mainly because the demographic mix of voters in these Iowa caucus polls may unrepresentative of actual caucus-goers.
Keep in mind that approximately 610,000 registered Republicans and 705,000 registered independents are eligible to show up at the GOP caucuses.  In 2008, just 119,000 did.  In 2000, the turnout was about 88,000.  In other words, much less than 10% of the eligible electorate will show up.  Determining who they are for a poll is not easy
For one, most of the public pollsters rely on self-reported intentions of caucus attendance.  Unlike primaries where turnout records are publicly available, the Iowa Secretary of State does not maintain caucus attendance – the parties do.  If you want past turnout reports you have to buy those lists directly from the parties at a steep cost.  Furthermore, past caucus attendance is really not a good barometer of current intentions (again, unlike primaries).
Polling the Iowa caucuses is notoriously difficult.  Which brings us back to Ron Paul.  He does extraordinarily well among younger (i.e. under the age of 45), independent voters.  The released cross-tabulations from two polls demonstrate this.
The Insider Advantage poll shows Paul with nearly half the vote among “likely caucus goers” under the age of 30 and leading with 30% among those age 30 to 44.  He runs even with Romney (22% each) among those age 45-64, but Romney pulls ahead among those age 65 and over with Paul dropping to 5th place.  Among self-identified independent voters, Paul leads with 28%, compared to 19% for Rick Perry and 17% for Romney.  Among Republican partisans, Paul enjoys a narrow 22% to 20% edge over Romney, with Perry (15%), Gingrich (15%), and Michele Bachmann (11%) close behind.
The Iowa State Poll paints a similar picture.  Paul garners a clear majority of the vote among those under the age of 45.  However, Newt Gingrich has the lead among older voters.  It’s worth noting that the Iowa State Poll did two things that are different from most other polls.  They used a very long field period, starting their interviews on December 8, when Gingrich’s popularity was still at its height. They also used a panel sample – in other words, they re-interviewed a subset of the voters they spoke to in their November poll.  It’s unclear what impact the use of a panel has on their results, but the extended field period certainly does not capture the exceptional fluidity of this race.
I think that these polls may be inflating Paul’s support because they over-represent a segment of the electorate that is less likely to turn out.  Keep in mind that the caucuses are a long process.  You have to listen to hours of speeches from representatives of each candidate before you get to cast your vote.  And you have to do this on a cold Iowa workday.
Who’s more likely to show up under those conditions – younger, independent-minded voters or older, partisan stalwarts?  Exactly.  Now, this runs counter to what some other astute observers have opined.
I'm not saying there won’t be young voters at the caucuses.  It just won’t be as many as the polls suggest.  According to the 2008 Iowa exit polls (or technically “entrance” polls), 27% of GOP attendees were under the age of 45.  The Insider Advantage poll has this group at 40% of the electorate and Iowa State has them at 37%.  An October Des Moines Register poll noted that seniors are less likely to self-report intended caucus attendance than they have been in past years.  While I accept that, I'm not sure if young independents will be as motivated to come out as the more recent polls suggest (young conservatives may be a different story). 
The real issue here is partisan identity.  In the 2008 exit polls, 13% of GOP caucus goers identified themselves as “independent.”  However, voters of this affiliation make up 30% of the Insider Advantage sample and 38% of the Iowa State sample.  Even without a contested Democratic caucus to draw away some independents (as can be argued happened in 2008), there is no way that independents will make up anywhere near that proportion on January 3rd.
In the end, I predict – and here’s where I go out on a limb – that Mitt Romney will win Iowa with about 27% of the vote.  Ron Paul will come in a close second, but since many polls show him with a lead, he will be seen as having underperformed.  I also think the third place finisher will be Michele Bachmann (perhaps due to an influx of young conservatives).  She will not be far ahead of Gingrich and Perry in total votes, but her “surprise” showing will be the story of the caucus.
So with the media focused on Romney’s win (“Is he invincible?”) and Bachman’s better than expected performance, Ron Paul’s strong effort will likely get squeezed out of the media coverage.  And that’s what really matters as attention turns to New Hampshire and the South.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

NJ Congressional Redistricting Speculation

So here we go again.  Another New Jersey redistricting commission will sequester itself in New Brunswick’s Heldrich Hotel.  This time, Congress is up for grabs.  What will happen?  Who knows?  But we can speculate.
The outcome of Congressional redistricting is much harder to predict than this year’s legislative process.  For one, the New Jersey Constitution has a number of standards that limit how the legislative lines can be drawn (e.g. keeping municipalities whole), whereas it offers absolutely no guidance on the Congressional map.  Also, this year’s legislative tie-breaker, Alan Rosenthal, showed his hand early in the process, laying out a series of standards that pretty much locked him into choosing the Democratic map.  The Congressional tie-breaker, John Farmer, has avoided making any public pronouncements of the standards he will use.
The process begins with the commission’s Democratic and Republican teams each presenting a map for Farmer’s consideration.  It is certain that these initial maps will show 7-5 splits, 7 districts that favor their party and 5 that favor the other party.  Surprise, surprise!
Both sides will justify their maps under the guise of partisan “fairness.”  This is the principle that the distribution of Congressional districts should match the partisan inclinations of the statewide electorate.  Of course, this also means is that none of the districts should be competitive (which is basically what happened during the 2001 process).
In other words, the Democrats will argue that the state leans more Democratic, so they should have more districts.  The Republicans will do the same for their side.  Regardless of whose analysis is wrong or right, the fairness doctrine as a primary consideration lacks merit, because frankly it matters very little to New Jersey’s influence in Congress.  How exactly does it help the state if one extra Representative (out of 435 total) belongs to one party or the other?
Indeed, it could be argued that a 6-6 split actually gives our state its best chance at having influence.  Given the number of times control of the House has changed hands over the past few years, always having 6 members in the majority actually increases our chances of placing members high on the Congressional power list.
At any rate, Dean Farmer has indicated that he may be unwilling to entertain the fairness argument as an opening salvo.  He has publicly stated that the bulk of New Jersey voters are independent.  To be clear, this shows a misunderstanding of New Jersey’s electorate and how our lack of electoral competition discourages partisan voter registration.   However, I agree with what appears to be the underlying reason he has made these comments – the “fairness” doctrine simply should not be the primary consideration when redrawing New Jersey’s Congressional districts.
I have already laid out my general views on the matter, both in print and in testimony to the Commission.  New Jersey as a state has one of the least compact (i.e. most gerrymandered) Congressional maps.  In fact, New Jersey’s 6th District is considered one of the top ten offenders in the country.  Until we fix this lack of compactness and the consequent splitting of communities of interest, the people in each district will lack effective representation, regardless of “partisan fairness.”
For the sake of the state as a whole, I would like to see a map that does the following (these are general guidelines): 
Move District 1 slightly south to pick up more of Gloucester County and swing District 2 a little north to take in the parts of southern Ocean County that are in the Philadelphia media market.
Make District 3 primarily Burlington with bits of western Camden and southern Mercer so that it is almost entirely in the Philly media market.
Slide District 4 east so that it is a northern Ocean/eastern Monmouth district.
Consolidate District 6 into mostly northwest Monmouth and Middlesex.
Consolidate District 12 into Mercer and southern Middlesex/Somerset.
Make District 7 mainly a Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex district and expand District 11 north.
Expand District 10 into Union and make District 13 more contiguous by adding a little more of Hudson, Elizabeth and Newark.
Expand District 8 east, which basically means that the northern part of District 9 and the eastern part of District 5 would be combined.
I think these general guidelines would go a long way to increasing the representativeness and responsiveness of our Congressional delegation.
Now, I certainly don’t know whether any of this is in line with Farmer’s thinking.  A cloak of secrecy has been maintained over the entire process.  But from his few public statements, I think it is unlikely that Farmer will approve a map that give either side an easy majority in the delegation.  Furthermore, I think his preference for reducing New Jersey’s delegation from 13 to the required 12 will be to force a Democrat v. Republican “fair fight” rather than an intraparty face-off.  Finally, I think he will seek a map that reduces the likelihood that any of the state’s most influential members from either party will be significantly threatened.
To start with, Donald Payne (D-10) is safe under the Voting Rights Act – you can’t break up a district where a minority group comprises a majority of the voting age population.  Albio Sires (D-13) is also safe.  While his seat does not technically meet the threshold of being majority-Hispanic in voting age population, it is in total population.  It would be politically untenable to alter his district significantly.
The southern seats (Districts 1 through 4) are also safe, because they all have to march north.  It should be noted, though, that under my preferred scenario above, Jon Runyan (R-3) could find himself in a more competitive district.
Farmer is unlikely to be amenable to a map that significantly harms Frank Pallone (D-6) or Rush Holt (D-12) because they are likely to have influence in leadership if the Democrats regain control of the House in the near future. 
On the Republican side, influence is less clear.  Chris Smith (R-4) is the most senior member of New Jersey’s delegation, although he has had some conflicts with his leadership.  Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11) also has longevity (both personally and in his family’s roots to the earliest governance of the American Republic) – so while he may not be the most influential member he is likely safe. 
Leonard Lance (R-7) is a relative newcomer, serving only his second term.  While this may make him vulnerable in terms of seniority, he is seen as having potential for future leadership in his party.  Furthermore, putting him at risk would mean pitting him against Holt or Pallone (see above).  So Lance is likely safe.
This leaves Scott Garrett (R-5), Bill Pascrell (D-8) and Steve Rothman (D-9).  Garrett was first elected in 2002 and is a darling of the Tea Party wing of his party.  This means he has no allies at the table in the redistricting process.
Pascrell and Rothman were first elected in 1996.  That actually gives them slightly more seniority than Rush Holt.  However, neither appears to have the same level of influence that Holt does.  Rothman did garner attention by being the first major Garden State politico to back Barack Obama in 2008, but this doesn’t seem to have paid any influence dividends.  My sense is that Pascrell may have more friends at the table than Rothman does.
Therefore, I see a mash-up of districts 5 and 9 as the most likely outcome of this process (although it’s hard to say right now if that would end up being a lean-Democrat or lean-Republican district).
Of course, I could be wrong.  But we won’t know that until white smoke emerges from the Heldrich.  In the meantime, all we can do is speculate.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Is Gingrich the Phoenix?

The latest Rasmussen poll has Newt Gingrich with a 21 point lead over Mitt Romney among Republican voters.  How did this happen?

Well, a few caveats.  First, there is no such “lead,” because there is no such thing as a national primary in which these candidates are competing.  At this stage of the game, the only polls that tell us anything at all about the race are those in Iowa and New Hampshire, and to a lesser extent, South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada.  Once the early contests winnow down the field, the preferences of the national “electorate” shift toward the leading contenders.  Although, I should note that Gingrich is ahead in recent polls from all of those states except New Hampshire (and Nevada where there have been no reputable polls).

Secondly, the Rasmussen poll results tend to swing much more widely on the “flavor of the month” candidate than other polls have.  So, I’m not sure that Gingrich is quite at 38% to Romney’s 17%.  But it does make a great headline, doesn’t it?

My examination of the GOP nomination preference polls over the past six months indicates that each candidate has a base of support.  For most – Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Gingrich – support levels consistently register between 5% and 10%.  For Romney, it hovers around 20%. 

According to the polling average, Romney’s support over the past six months has ranged from 17% to 25%.  Bachman’s support went as high as 14% in mid-July before tailing off.  Perry then zoomed over the 30% mark for a short time in mid-September before plummeting.  Then Cain reached a poll average of 26% in mid-October and held it for a couple of weeks before scandal caught up with him.  Now we see Gingrich averaging 27% nationally.

My rough read of these polls is that about 20% of the Republican electorate just can’t settle on a candidate.  [In the Rasmussen polls, it looks more like 30%.  I’m not sure why his sample has more of these fickle voters, but it certainly makes for more interesting results.]

The bottom line is that each of the prior “surging” candidates had a five or six week period where their numbers were ticking up, before topping off and dropping.  Newt’s numbers started to climb four weeks ago.  So the question for Newt Gingrich is whether he will peak too early (i.e. will his numbers start dropping by mid-month) or whether his rise is timed just right for a strong showing in Iowa on January 3rd.

Regardless, considering how the former House Speaker’s political obituary was written just a few months ago, his ascendance into the leading spot is shocking.  It’s even more astonishing, because he accomplished this while focusing his campaign strategy almost entirely on attacking the media, including his fellow travelers on Fox and syndicated radio.

I have to admit there’s something about his biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you approach that I admire.  It has made the press apoplectic.  “He’s using attacks on us to avoid answering substantive questions,” they say.  They’re right, of course, but what they miss is that Newt also has a point.  His criticism of how the press focuses on process over policy is generally on the mark.  And that brings us to where the GOP nomination battle stands today.

I recently did a radio interview about the polls on America Now with Andy Dean.  Dean used the analogy of college football bowl invitations to describe how Gingrich is overtaking Cain.  Basically, you have two teams with an 11 and 1 record.  One team has some quality wins but suffered one loss late in the season.  The other team had a horrible, embarrassing loss early on, but has managed to scrape out quiet wins for the remainder of the season.  Which team gets invited to the major bowl?  [I would have actually used the NCAA hoops Big Dance at-large bids, but you get the picture.]

It can be argued that Gingrich’s “sins” - both personal and political – are substantively more egregious than Cain’s.  However, since the Cain revelations are new and Gingrich’s have been known for some time, Gingrich is able to use Cain’s downfall to his advantage.

Can you spot the irony in all this?  Newt’s recent success can at least partially – if not mostly – be attributed to the “mainstream media” he has railed against.  The relevance of the Cain stories for Republican voters is largely because of how they are being highlighted in the press.  In media terms, the Cain story is sexy (excuse the pun) whereas the Gingrich story is old news.  The media have moved on because it no longer has the titillation factor (apologies again).

So if Newt can perform the unthinkable and wrest the nomination from Mitt he may have to send out thank-you notes to all those members of the press he blasted along the way.

Of course, there’s still a month to go before the first caucus.  That’s more than enough time for another Gingrich transgression to make its way into the mainstream media and scupper his chances.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Expectations Game

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

Election Day is tomorrow.  And as is typical of these low turnout affairs, it’s now a matter of managing expectations.  Over the past few months, the New Jersey GOP has been putting out mixed messages about what they hope to accomplish in this election.  Let’s put these expectations in context.
When the new legislative map was first unveiled in April, it was clear that neither party could launch a “referendum” type campaign.  The map locked down too many districts for one party or the other.  The Republicans saw a few opportunities to pick up seats and claimed they would try to make lemonade out of what were very sour lemons.
Over the summer, the GOP leaked some internal polling “data” showing that Gov. Christie was very popular in key battleground districts while Pres. Obama was very unpopular there.  The underlying message was that, even if they couldn’t turn the election into a statewide referendum, they could do it district by district.
As anyone who closely studies voting behavior understands, the electorate doesn’t cast their vote as proxies for other offices.  It’s extremely rare that a sizable number of votes for legislator are cast specifically to show support for or opposition to a sitting governor’s agenda.  And they never think about the president; voters are smart enough to distinguish between DC and Trenton.
Certainly, voters’ opinion of the governor comes into play, but that is part and parcel of their general partisan inclination.  Unless a governor’s actions cause voters to change their normal voting choice or come out to vote when they typically wouldn’t, there is no referendum.
New Jersey’s 1991 was one such exception.  But it’s important to remember that voters were also specifically punishing the legislators who supported Gov. Florio’s tax hikes as much as they were expressing anger at the governor himself.  And that election featured a new legislative map friendlier to Republicans, to boot.
So, by the end of summer, Gov. Christie was saying that there was no way much was going to change due to the new legislative map.  Then a few weeks ago, he suddenly said that the GOP would make history!
It turns out the governor’s definition of history is a bit underwhelming.  Basically, if Republicans could hold on to the seats they already have, the election would be historic.  To back this up, the state GOP put out a memo showing that the governor’s party has lost legislative seats in the first midterm elections of 7 of the past 8 governors.
Putting aside numerous mathematical errors in the memo, the state GOP doesn’t take into account the fact that the governor’s party usually picks up seats as a coattail effect during the governor’s initial election. In this context, a loss of seats in the midterm can be viewed as something of a course correction.
Analyzing these two-cycle changes in legislative seats (governor’s election year plus midterm), we find that 4 of the past 7 governors have actually seen their party experience a net gain of seats.
Let’s go back to Gov. William Cahill, the first governor elected under the current legislative structure of 120 seats.  His fellow Republicans gained one seat during his election in 1969, but lost 26 seats in the 1971 midterm – for a net loss of 25 seats.
Gov. Brendan Byrne’s Democrats picked up an astronomical 39 seats when he was first elected in 1973.  This was on top of the 26 they picked up in the prior election, so it’s not surprising that Democrats wouldn’t be able to hold all these gains.  They lost 17 seats in the 1975 midterm, but that still left the legislature with 22 more Democrats than it had before Byrne was first elected.  Democrats picked up another 3 seats during Byrne’s re-election but lost 10 in his second midterm.  In the end, Byrne left office with his party holding 15 more legislative seats than it did before he was elected.
The 1981 election brought New Jersey a new legislative map and a record close race for governor.  Tom Kean eked out a 1,600 vote win and his fellow Republicans picked up 6 seats in the legislature under a brand new map.  They picked up one more seat in an ensuing special election but lost 3 in Kean’s first midterm.  This netted the Republicans a 4 seat gain compared to where they stood before Kean was elected.  Kean’s party picked up 12 seats and control of the Assembly during his landslide 1985 re-election, but lost 6 seats during his second mid-term election.  Kean ended his tenure as governor with 9 more Republican seats than before he was elected.  [Note: the initial version of this column included incorrect numbers for Kean's second term.]

Jim Florio, the man Kean beat, came to office in 1989 with 4 additional Democratic seats.  His party lost one seat in an interim special election and another 31 in the midterm on the back of voter anger over tax hikes, for a net loss of 28 seats during his term.
Christie Whitman is the only governor of the past 40 years who never saw her party gain seats.  She governed under a legislative map that slightly favored Republicans, but not by nearly the number that the GOP picked up in the anti-Florio backlash.  Her party lost 8 seats when she was first elected in 1993, one seat in an interim election, another 2 in her first midterm, 2 during her re-election, 3 during her final midterm, and another one in a special election.  Republicans maintained their legislative majority throughout the 1990s, but by 16 fewer seats than they had before Whitman was elected.
A new legislative map in 2001 helped Jim McGreevey come into office with a net gain of 14 Democratic legislators.  However, rather than lose some of those gains in a midterm correction, Democrats were able to pick up 5 more seats in 2003.  This gave McGreevey’s party a net 19 seat gain during his abbreviated tenure.
Democrats picked up another 2 seats when Jon Corzine was elected in 2005 and held even during his 2007 midterm.  This is the smallest net legislative change of any governor’s administration, but it is a gain nonetheless.
That brings us to Chris Christie.  His Republicans were able to pick up one Assembly seat when he was first elected in 2009, but lost one Senate seat in a special election last year.  So he’s at “square one” regarding tomorrow’s election.
Looking back on the past 40 years, neither a gain nor a loss of Republican seats would be particularly historic.  Both outcomes have happened about equally, although more governors have in fact gained rather than lost seats if both their initial election and midterm years are combined.
On the other hand, if Republicans can hold onto the 49 seats they have now, it would indeed be historic.  Chris Christie would be the first governor since the legislature went to 120 seats to experience neither a net gain nor a net loss in the two-cycle number of seats his party controls.  And given the current legislative map’s limitations, I bet that’s exactly the type of history he’s shooting for.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
Bizarre fact:  Eleven legislative candidates nominated by either Democratic or Republican primary voters will not appear on the ballot tomorrow.  An astounding four of those are from the 8th district.  Democrat Carl Lewis was kicked off the Senate ballot.  His two Assembly running mates were placeholders and subsequently substituted on the ballot.  And incumbent Patrick Delany resigned his seat over the summer and was replaced.  That means that 8th district voters will only see two names on the ballot out of the six candidates they nominated in June.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New Jersey Legislative Forecast

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

New Jersey goes to the polls seven days from now. 

Well, actually very few New Jerseyans will go to the polls seven days from now.  Statewide registered voter turnout will fall below 30% for the first time since records have been kept.  So many seats are considered a lock that many incumbents won’t even demonstrate a minimal level of respect for voters by answering the media’s candidate questionnaires.

Considering how irrelevant voters are to the process I have decided to save us all the effort and announce the winning margins for all 120 legislative seats a week ahead of the election.

But seriously folks…  The following is an analysis of where the races stand based on prior voting patterns and developments during this fall’s campaign.  It is very similar to the town-based district partisan advantage I published shortly after the new legislative map was announced in April.

On the Senate side, 15 seats will likely be won by more than 30 point margins (10 Democrat and 5 Republican).  Look for the Hudson County seats to top 60 point margins.  Another 9 seats (2D/7R) will be won by 21 to 30 point margins; 11 districts (8D/3R) by 13 to 20 point margins, and 2 districts (1D/1R) by 8 to 12 point margins.  The remaining 3 seats should be won by Dems in 2 to 7 point margins.  [See below for specific district breakdowns.]

For the Assembly calculation, I added the total votes for each party’s candidates to determine the margin.  This does not take into account potential differences in votes for individual candidates of the same party.  While some individual victories may be close, I am not forecasting any split party Assembly delegations.

On the Assembly side, 12 districts (9 Democrat and 3 Republican) will be won more than 30 point margins.  Another 9 districts (1D/8R) will be won by 21 to 30 point margins; 8 districts (6D/2R) by 13 to 20 point margins, and 6 districts (4D/2R) by 8 to 12 point margins.  Democrats should win another 4 districts by 2 to 7 points and Republicans one district by the same margin. [See below for specific district breakdowns.]

As such, I see the Senate staying steady at a 24 to 16 Democrat edge, and the Democrats picking up one seat in the Assembly for a 48 to 32 seat advantage,

This forecast is based largely on past behavior and the incumbent protection constraints of the current legislative map.  As last weekend’s snowstorm proves, all forecasts should be taken with a huge grain of salt.  However, the extent to which actual results vary from this forecast will determine bragging rights on November 8.

A few districts bear special discussion.

District 38:  Defending Senator Bob Gordon, and his Assembly running mates, has been priority #1 for state Democrats.  If you’ve been hearing New Jersey Democratic operatives use the term “Tea Party” with Rainman-like redundancy, this district is the reason why.  Their strategy is to paint the GOP nominee, Bergen Freeholder John Driscoll, as out of the moderate mainstream.  This is one place where Gov. Christie has lent his presence on the campaign trail in order to counteract those charges.

The new legislative map dealt a real blow to the incumbents, slicing off half their existing voter base in the redistricting shuffle.  The 8 lost towns accounted for more than two-thirds of the Democrats’ plurality in recent elections and remained solidly Democratic during Chris Christie’s 2009 victory.  At the same time, the core towns left in the 38th saw their Democratic margin cut in half from 2007.  The district’s new towns gained from the 35th (Glen Rock and Hawthorne) and the 39th (Oradell, River Edge and New Milford) also voted much more Republican in the 2009 legislative races than they did in 2007.  New towns from the 37th district (Bergenfield, Maywood, Rochelle Park) remained firmly Democratic, although it’s important to note that their state senator was running for Lieutenant Governor at the time.  Bottom line: without Chris Christie at the top of the ticket to drive GOP turnout, the Democrats should be able to hold onto all three seats here.

District 2:  Republicans currently hold the Assembly seats, but the real battle is at the top of the ticket.  GOP Assemblyman Vince Polistina is hoping to knock off incumbent Democratic Senator Jim Whelan.  Democrats have a 9,000 voter registration edge here, but as past history has shown, this is not enough to ensure a D victory.  Whelan’s prospects improved when Atlantic City mayor Lorenzo Langford ended his independent bid for the seat.  Atlantic City returns accounted for about 40% of Whelan’s plurality in 2007.

The new legislative map cost this district 5 towns, with Galloway being the big prize.  While Whelan won those towns in 2007, they voted heavily for the GOP Assembly in recent years.  The towns added to this district (Buena, Buena Vista, Folsom, and Somers Point) are friendlier territory for Democrats.  This has been a pretty muddy fight, with Whelan and Polistina accusing each other of feeding at the public trough.  When races become this dirty, the attacks tend to cancel out and the status quo is maintained.  Whelan will hold on to his Senate seat and the GOP will retain the Assembly here.

District 14: It’s probably a historic relic to keep this district in the “competitive” category.  Voters in this district – which includes a sizable number of state government workers – are used to retail politics.  Former GOP legislator Bill Baroni was a master of the meet-and-greet approach and handily won what should have been a solidly Democratic district throughout the past decade.  The current Senate incumbent Linda Greenstein learned this lesson well and has spent years shaking hands to become Baroni’s successor, first in the Assembly and now in the Senate.

The GOP selected Richard Kanka, a man with some name recognition, to challenge Greenstein and have put some resources into this race.  But the fact that Robbinsville Mayor Dave Fried pulled out of the Assembly race this summer is a signal that they have lowered their expectations.  Republicans were counting on a big turnout from Fried’s hometown, which the new map added to this district along with East Windsor, Hightstown and Spotswood.  These new towns replaced South Brunswick and West Windsor, the former having been a major stronghold for Greenstein, especially when she won the 2010 special election for this seat by more than 7 points.  This town shift made the district look more competitive on paper, but East Windsor and Robbinsville came from ultra-safe Republican districts where Democratic was depressed.  I would expect that more “D” voters will now turn out in these towns and the Democratic slate will win by a margin close to the upper end of the 2 to 7 point range forecast.

District 7:  Republican Diane Allen has held on to the Senate seat in what has been a Democratic district by force of her own popularity.  The Democrats have consistently won the Assembly seats.  Redistricting has led Republicans to believe they may have an outside shot at finally picking up an Assembly seat here.

This district lost Merchantville, Maple Shade, Westampton, and Mount Holly in the new map.  But the big blow to Democrats was the loss of Pennsauken, which not only cost them voters but an incumbent Assemblyman to boot.  These towns were replaced by five municipalities from solidly Republican districts: Bordentown City and Township, Fieldsboro, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.  This town shift moved what was a 5,000 vote plurality for the Democrats in 2007 to a hypothetical 1,000 vote edge.  However, since the new towns were in uncompetitive districts, we would expect the South Jersey Democratic GOTV machine now to be hard at work in these new towns.  Expect the Assembly Democrats to get about a 5 point win here, while Diane Allen cruises to a near 20 point victory.

District 1: Everything about this district says it should be solidly Republican.  And yet, Democrat Jeff Van Drew has been a winner here for the last few election cycles.  Even when he wasn’t on the ballot in 2009, District 1 voters were urged to vote for the “Van Drew Team.”  And they did.

The new legislative map actually handed this district some more Democrat-friendly towns in Cumberland County.  I expect that all three Democratic incumbents will be returned to office on Tuesday.  I included this district here though, because I think the results may be closer than expected, specifically on the Assembly side.  Usually in New Jersey legislative elections, the two members of a party’s Assembly slate get roughly the same number of votes.  One recent poll indicated that Matt Milam is running behind fellow incumbent Nelson Albano.  Couple this with the fact that the (fairly) new Cape May County GOP chairman is itching to score a victory, and it could be an interesting night in the southern end of the state.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on Districts 11 and 16.  These are considered to be safe Republican districts but they were radically redrawn in the new map so that a sizable chunk of voters are unfamiliar with the incumbents.  The Democrats are hoping to make a statement here by challenging for at least one of the Assembly seats in each district.

One of the Democratic candidates in District 11 was endorsed by the Asbury Park Press in one of the few places where a newspaper endorsement carries some weight.  It’s also one of the few districts in the state where challengers have raised more than $100,000.

District 16 used to be an almost entirely Somerset County district.  With the new legislative map, the majority of its residents now come from towns in Hunterdon, Mercer, and Middlesex counties.  Still, the Republican Party stuck with its two Somerset-based incumbents and named a Somerset freeholder for the open seat.  On the Democratic slate is a South Brunswick councilman (see District 14 above), a Hunterdon teacher, and a Somerset attorney.  They have also hit the $100,000 mark in fundraising.

And in the interest of fairness, I should mention the other district where a challenger slate reported at least $100,000 raised in their 29 day finance reports.  That would be District 27.  The GOP had hoped to challenge here but their preferred nominee was knocked off by a Tea Party backed candidate in the primary. It would add some swagger to Republicans if they could knock off Dick Codey.  But this is Dick Codey we’re talking about.  In other words, Fuhgeddaboudit!

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Senate Forecast by District
D >30 points:  19, 20, 28, 29, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 37
D 21-30 points:  5, 18
D 13-20 points:  3, 4, 6, 15, 17, 22, 27, 36
D 8-12 points:  1
D 2-7 points:  2, 14, 38
R >30 points:  8, 10, 23, 24, 30
R 21-30 points:  9, 13, 21, 25, 26, 39, 40
R 13-20 points:  7, 12, 16
R 8-12 points:  11

Assembly Forecast by District
D >30 points:  20, 28, 29, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 37
D 21-30 points:  5
D 13-20 points: 6, 15, 17, 18, 19, 36
D 8-12 points:  3, 4, 22, 27
D 2-7 points:  1, 7, 14, 38
R >30 points:  10, 24, 30
R 21-30 points:  8, 9, 21, 23, 25, 26, 39, 40
R 13-20 points:  12, 13
R 8-12 points:  11, 16
R 2-7 points:  2

Monday, October 24, 2011

Who is OWS and why should we care?

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

Does the Occupy Wall Street movement represent anything other than the protesters who have taken to the streets in New York and elsewhere?  Public opinion data indicates that they are tapping into widespread frustration with the political system, even if they don’t reflect the political ideology of most Americans.  And that makes this a movement worth watching.

So what drives those who are actively taking part?  One pollster, Democratic consultant Doug Schoen, actually waded into the throngs occupying lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park and interviewed nearly 200 protesters.  While his methods didn’t necessarily adhere to the most rigorous polling practices, the results are suggestive.

Half of those interviewed are under the age of 30, but 1 in 7 are age 50 or older and most are employed.  In other words, this does not appear to be a “student” movement., although about half said this is the first time they got involved in any political activity.

Politically, 1-in-3 protesters identified with the Democratic party.  The remainder said they were independent or left of center.  However, this does not translate to unstinting support for the incumbent president.  More of the protesters interviewed actually disapprove than approve of the job Barack Obama is doing. 

They were also divided on whether TARP was necessary to help the economy.  They largely agreed, though, that the wealthiest Americans need to pay “more of their fair share.”  And a good number say they want to exercise the same kind of influence in the Democratic Party they feel the Tea Party has in the Republican Party.

The second question is whether these protesters speak for a larger segment of the population.  The answer to that is both yes and no.  A recent poll by the Associated Press found that 37% of Americans say they support the Occupy Wall Street movement.  By comparison, 28% say they support the Tea Party.

Although public support specifically for either movement is in the minority, it does appear that these groups have tapped into mounting public frustration with government.  Nearly 6-in-10 (58%) Americans say they are “angry” at the current state of U.S. politics.  That’s up from 49% at the beginning of the year.  Conversely, less than half (47%) of the public is “hopeful” about our political system, which is down sharply from 60%.

A recent Monmouth University poll asked New Jersey residents how different groups have benefited from current Washington policies.  At the bottom of the list was the middle class – only 1-in-10 felt this group has benefited a lot – even worse than either the poor or the wealthy.  At the top of the list was Wall Street, with half saying this group has benefited from government policies.

A recent study by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini found that the wealth of “ultra-high net worth individuals” grew by 11.5% in 2010.  On the other hand, the U.S. Census reports that "real" median household income is 6.4% below where it was just before the recession.  Another study indicates that incomes have fallen more since the economy officially began to recover in June 2009 than they did during the recession itself.

While most people aren’t aware of these statistics, the public feels there is a widening disparity fueled in part by government action or the lack thereof.  Polling indicates a growing frustration among the general public that politicians from both parties ignore at their own peril.  Both the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements are manifestations of this unsettled mood. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

2011 is No Referendum

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

Governor Christie is becoming a pretty good public opinion analyst.  Earlier this week, he noted that the Occupy Wall Street movement is not unlike the Tea Party, saying that both grew out of an “underlying problem… that people feel like government is unresponsive and dysfunctional.”  His view is an accurate read of current polling data.

That demonstration of public opinion acumen follows Christie’s dead-on analysis of the upcoming legislative elections: "In the end, I don't think these Legislative elections are a referendum on Barack Obama or on me. I think they are a referendum on each one of these individual candidates in these individual districts."
Legislative elections are rarely referenda on the governor, 1991 being a notable exception.  And they are never a referendum on the U.S. President (despite some GOP backroom chatter trying to get us to think otherwise).  Heck, sometimes they are not even a referendum on the legislature!

Certainly, the governor is an overshadowing presence in any legislative election.  But there are no signs that this year’s contest will be a referendum in the classic sense.
Technically, a referendum is a direct vote by the electorate on a single question.  In that dictionary-definition sense, the only referendum on this year’s ballot is the non-binding one to allow sports betting in the state.
If we expand the term’s definition to its cultural context, a “referendum” can occur when a particular election is used to make a statement about a larger set of issues.  You can identify a referendum election in a number of ways.
After the fact, you can look at turnout.  A sign of a “referendum” election is when turnout is unusually high for all voters or a particular bloc of voters, or when there are noticeable swings in how people usually vote.
For example, since most Congressional seats are safe for the incumbent, the fact that control of the House of Representatives has changed hands twice over the past four years indicates there is some sort of referendum going on.  However, since it has gone back and forth between the parties, the message is unclear.  This goes back to Gov. Christie’s observation that the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are really outgrowths of the same public sense that government is broken.
The 2009 gubernatorial election could have been a referendum on the Corzine administration. We saw big swings toward the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Middlesex and Gloucester counties and unprecedented turnout jumps in Monmouth and Ocean.  This suggests that many voters were thinking in terms of a referendum on Corzine, but the results did not trickle down to local races (except in Gloucester County).
The makings of a  referendum election can also be detected beforehand.  One clear sign is whether the political parties actively try to make it a referendum election.   A clue to this is whether they engage – i.e. spend money – on a comprehensive and cohesive messaging strategy.
In New Jersey right now, we see no such effort.  The Democrats are not running advertisements in the New York and Philadelphia media markets saying “We need to push back on the harmful Christie agenda.”  Republicans are not littering the state with flyers saying:  “We have to take control of the legislature to speed up Governor Christie’s reforms.”
That’s just not happening.  Follow the money.
According to the most recent campaign finance reports, there are only five districts where the challenging slate has raised more than $100,000 – districts 1, 11, 14, 27, and 38.  In each of those cases, the incumbent team has outraised the challengers by more than 2 to 1.
Only two other districts show both sides with sizable campaign warchests.  District 7 is a Burlington County split district where the Democrats have outraised the Republicans $725,000 to $436,000 and district 2 in Atlantic County is a split district where each party’s ticket has raised nearly $950,000.
Another source of money is the state party and legislative leadership committees, and their finance reports show no major expenditures on a statewide communications strategy.  If this were a referendum, we would also see the state wealth spread across many local races.  Looking at just the official state committees, funds have been distributed to only a handful of districts – 2, 3, 7, 14, and 38 on the GOP side and 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 14, and 38 for the Democrats.
Neither side is making this a referendum on Gov. Christie.  That’s because neither side could win such a referendum.  The legislative map is doing exactly what it was designed to do – lock in the status quo.  There is practically no way that either party can pick up more than a couple of seats in this election.  Thus, regardless of the outcome, both sides would “lose” a referendum vote.
This is not to say that Christie won’t be a presence in this campaign.  Republican voters like him.  Democrats don’t.  Expressing those sentiments will be a part of their vote.  But would they vote any differently for legislature if Christie wasn’t governor?
Be careful with polls that purport to show a referendum brewing.  Read the wording of those poll questions carefully.  Of course Christie is going to have “something” to do with how a person votes in this election.
The real question is whether the governor’s presence in this race is going to get a significant number of people either to change how they normally vote or to turn out when they normally would not.  And the answer to that is a resounding “No.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Anatomy of a Rumor

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

He meant it.  The answer was “no” all along.  But Gov. Christie made a couple of claims during the Q&A part of his press conference that bear further analysis.  He said that the press was careless in how they reported this and that no one believes he stoked the media hype.  I agree with one part of that but disagree in part with the other.
First, it’s clear that the press still doesn’t understand what “reconsidering” meant to Christie.  He was not reconsidering turning his “no” into a “yes.”  He was reconsidering whether he would turn his “no” into a “maybe.”
I know this may be hard for some to understand, but Christie’s thought process is not always black and white.  There are grey areas.  The events of the past week gave the governor pause about whether he should simply entertain the possibility of running for president.  He said he never moved off his “no” and I for one believe him.
Here’s how we know.  In the “maybe” stage of a presidential campaign, your advisors start putting out feelers to key donors and campaign operatives across the country, particularly in the early primary states.  This did not happen.   Many of those key people made ON THE RECORD statements that they never heard from Christie’s circle.  That means he never truly reached the “maybe” stage in his thinking.  Got it?
Now, how about the idea that Christie – or more accurately his inner circle with the governor’s tacit approval – didn’t help fan the flames of the speculation that he was a “maybe”?  Well, that’s another story.
Over the past year, any report that surfaced citing unnamed sources who claimed Christie may reconsider was immediately shot down by a definitive on-the-record statement by someone in Christie’s inner circle, usually Bill Palatucci.  That was true up until a week ago – the morning of the speech at the Reagan Library in fact – when the governor’s brother was the last advisor to speak on the record about Christie’s lack of presidential ambitions for 2012.
And then those sources went dark.  We didn’t hear from them again until today.  Perhaps they were on a retreat at a Tibetan monastery and missed all the fun?  But while they were silent, the same reporters who were quoting them on-the record to dispel the Christie rumors were suddenly using unnamed sources “close to the governor” to keep the speculation going.  Coincidence?  Maybe.  And then again, maybe not.
Regardless, we already saw signals that the Christie camp wanted someone – i.e. the deep-pocketed donors that he was about to hit up on his cross-country fundraising tour – to get the impression he might not be a solid “no.”  The TV ad by a supportive 501(c)4 and the Tom Kean revelation are all indications that the Christie camp wanted to keep that chatter alive.
I really can’t fault the governor for that.  You raise a lot more money as a presidential possibility than as just the governor of New Jersey.  The boatloads of cash he presumably raked in for other candidates will only help him further his political career when he calls in a favor down the road.  And he is bringing some of that money back to the state GOP coffers to bank for his 2013 re-election bid.  I don’t have any problem with governor wanting to prime the pump.  It’s just that his camp’s active participation in fostering this speculation was probably unnecessary.
So, if the governor’s inner circle wanted that speculation to continue, how was the press careless in its reporting?
Up until the Reagan Library speech, Christie probably had not really entertained a move to “maybe” status.  The speech changed that.  It’s certainly understandable given the setting and the national attention it garnered.  So he asked his advisers for some time alone to consider whether he even wanted to start the exploratory wheels rolling.  Fair enough.
That was the point, though, at which the anonymous source reporting flew into high gear.  It seems as soon as one media outlet got an unnamed source to confirm the governor was “reconsidering,” all the other outlets fell over themselves to get an unnamed source of their very own.  [By the way, kudos to those New Jersey news outlets that had access to reliable anonymous sources but did not succumb to the pressure to use them.]
In that frenzy, I don’t feel that these reporters were as skeptical about their sources as they should have been.  I’ve talked to a lot of New Jersey reporters during the past week and I do believe they followed all the proper journalistic procedures about using anonymous sources.  I am fully confident that these sources had proven to be reliable in the past and were in a position to know what the governor was thinking.  [Unlike many of the national reporters, who might as well have been talking to Kevin Bacon for as close as their sources actually were to Christie.]
Among those who did rely on unnamed sources, I don’t sense there was enough skepticism about their sources’ motivations.  Why did these sources need to go off the record?  Anonymous sources can have a variety of motivations.  They may want to prove to reporters that they have access to information – everyone likes feeling important.  They may actually have access to information that the public needs to know (think Watergate).  Or they are using the press to float a trial balloon.
We can probably knock out the first two and focus on the third.  Fair enough.  These sources felt it was in Christie’s strategic interest to keep this story alive.  But what exactly did they say to these reporters?
Obviously, I don’t have access to reporters’ notes, but from their published articles, it appears that the most knowledgeable sources were choosing their words very judiciously.  Christie was “reconsidering” his earlier no.  That was it.  No more, no less.
Furthermore, Christie apparently had conversations with other Republican leaders about his run.  No surprise there.  But the sources must have framed that information in such a way that reporters got the impression that these leaders were actively trying to get Christie into the race.  I suspect the words were parsed very carefully and reporters under pressure to “get the story” may not have spent as much time dissecting the language as they should have.
So when Christie said no to 2012 once and for all, he used the opportunity to call the media’s reporting “careless.”  And while he didn’t mention Josh Margolin by name, the governor honed in on the New York Post “exclusive” that included a statement that Nancy Reagan was “prodding” him to get into the race.   
What’s interesting about this particular instance is that Josh Margolin has had a good relationship with the governor.  The governor was a major source for The Jersey Sting, the book Margolin wrote with former Star-Ledger colleague Ted Sherman.  Christie even headlined their book launch party in March.  So if anyone was going to get real inside information about this story, it would be Margolin, right?  That’s what we all thought, but apparently not, since the governor called that part of his story “careless.”
Now, I may be wrong about any or all of this (although I doubt it). But the point is, if the media gets carried away with relying on anonymous sources whose motivations may be questionable, they shouldn't be surprised if those of us who follow this stuff closely become highly skeptical of what we are reading.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Kean Revelation

It’s official.  The Christie camp is actively stoking the fire of the “will he, won’t he” rumor mill.  Up to now, Chris Christie could plausibly claim that “outsiders” were responsible for the ongoing saga of a 2012 run.   No more.
The ball game changed when former Governor Tom Kean told the National Review that Christie is reconsidering whether to run for president.   This refutes Christie’s vociferous public denials about interest in a run made as recently as last Thursday.
Kean is arguably the most popular and well-respected New Jersey statesman of the past generation.  He is also a confidante of the current governor. Kean knows that any statement he makes on the record will be treated with exceptional gravitas.
Unless he made a major error in judgment, Tom Kean would not have stated that Christie was considering a run unless (a) he heard it first hand from Christie, (b) he believed it to be true, (c) he was led to believe that the Christie camp wanted this information to find its way into the public domain.
Now, any one of these assumptions may be wrong.  However, Tom Kean has to understand that is what the public will think when he makes such a statement.
There are other signs that Christie is seriously reconsidering.  But even before the Kean revelation, a TV ad put out by the Christie booster group, Committee for Our Children’s Future, had less to do with effecting policy change in New Jersey and more to do with bolstering the governor’s national reputation.
Tonight’s policy speech at the Reagan Library (hello!) may give us a better clue.  But there are some pitfalls to this gavotte whether Christie is actually considering a run or not.
It’s oft stated that those with presidential ambitions don’t get to pick their time, the time picks them.  Christie may never get another opportunity like the one that presents itself now. On the other hand, running for president now and losing, could spell the end of his political career.
If he doesn’t win the nomination, he will be seen as someone who can’t live up to expectations.  If he doesn’t beat Obama but makes it close, he may still be seen as a potential contender in 2016.  However, he will have spent so much time away from New Jersey that he may undermine his chances for re-election as governor in 2013, which would then scupper his national reputation.  Specifically, he will have lost more elections than he won in his political career.
So, the question right now is what kind of gambler Christie is.  Does he go all in on one roll of the dice and run for president now?  Or does he hold back his stake on the greater probability of extending his political career, but with the very real prospect that he might not get another shot at president?
Let’s assume the latter.  In this case, he is in danger of overplaying his flirtation with the national Republican Party.  There comes a point when your suitors lose interest.  I think Chris Christie is coming close to that point.  If he keeps playing coy beyond that, it may actually lead to outright resentment.
Christie probably could have extended the dance a little longer, as long as the rumors were sourced to people outside his inner circle.  Now he can’t.  We must assume that Tom Kean was given the green light to reveal Christie’s current thought process. 
If he’s not really considering a presidential run, then shame on him for playing Tom Kean (or shame on Tom Kean for playing us).  Otherwise, he needs to make his decision now.
If Christie gets in the race, he will find – like so many so-called “saviors” before him –that many of his enthusiastic supporters will step back and tell him he’s on his own.  Their job was to get him into the race and that job would be done.
Furthermore, nominations are not won on national reputation, but by how well you do in the early contests. The experience of one of his closest advisors, Mike DuHaime, on the Giuliani campaign in 2008 shows that you can’t start the race in Florida.
James Carville is reported to have said that New Jersey has a very selfish electorate.  Well, that may be true in some regards, but we don’t expect to have shaken hands with the candidate we will vote for in a presidential primary.  That’s the reality in Iowa and New Hampshire.
It’s all about organization and feet on the streets in the early states.  But even if Christie can put an organization together in those states in the next 60 days, he will not have been there personally.  He will have to spend every single hour between now and January glad-handing the locals in those states.
As recently as last week, Chris Christie said he has no fire in the belly for that kind of campaign.  If that’s really the case, then he does the national GOP and his constituents in New Jersey – as well as himself – a disservice by actively encouraging this never-ending story.
[UPDATE 4:10pm -- The Christie camp is saying no way, without disavowing kean's statements.  But of course, it would be unseemly to shoot down our elder statesman.  So we are left with two possibilities:  (1)  Kean was given the go ahead as a way to build more drama around the Reagan speech.  But this would have been a dumb strategy.  The rumors were floating nicely on their own without Christie having to take any responsibility for them.  This would have been gilding the lily.
(2) The other possibility is that Kean strayed off the ranch.  Or had a senior moment perhaps?  In any event, Kean's statement was the first real signal from the inner circle that Christie was considering a run.  That increased his national supporters' simmering hopes to a rolling boil.  So now, Christie has to throw a lot of ice on the rumors.  And that can lead to confusion, resentment, etc.  Something Christie doesn't want leading into tonight's speech.