By Jim Ellis
June 6, 2017 — The 2017-18 election cycle’s first regular primary is occuring today as New Jersey voters head to the polls to choose major party nominees in the governor’s race. This campaign will lead to replacing term-limited state chief executive and former Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie.
We can expect a low turnout, because it appears a foregone conclusion that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and former US Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy will easily win the Republican and Democratic nominations, respectively.
Polls have been few and far between, and the three surveys that were released in May show strong and solid margins for both Guadagno and Murphy. The most recent study, from Stockton University (May 16-23; 389 likely New Jersey GOP primary voters) finds Guadagno with a 37-18 percent advantage over Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli and three others who don’t even top four percent support. Earlier in the month, Quinnipiac University April 26-May 1; 331 likely New Jersey GOP primary voters) surveyed the state and found Guadagno up in similar fashion: 23-12 percent over Ciattarelli with no other candidate breaking five percent.
For the Democrats, the same polls find Murphy holding substantial and likely insurmountable leads. Stockton University (May 16-23; 403 likely New Jersey Democratic primary voters) gives the former ambassador and Wall Street executive a 37-10-9 percent lead over ex-US treasury official Jim Johnson and state Assemblyman John Wisniewski with no other candidate recording more than four percent preference. The earlier Quinnipiac study (April 26-May 1; 519 likely Democratic primary voters) found Murphy ahead of Johnson and Wisniewski, 26-7-5 percent, respectively.
The results from these quoted polls find no significant movement from previous studies conducted earlier in the cycle. The fact that nothing has been released just before Election Day also suggests that little in the way of change has occurred.
Once we have official nominees tomorrow night, an assessment period will soon begin as general election ballot test data begins to enter the public domain. It is already clear that Ambassador Murphy has the inside track for the November vote, and the early surveys will no doubt confirm such a conclusion. A wild card for the race is the potential Independent bid from comedian Joe Piscopo who, if he runs, may draw a bit more support than anticipated at least in the general election’s early segment.
An interesting question was asked in the Quinnipiac poll that touched on US Sen. Cory Booker’s (D) potential 2020 presidential aspirations. According to the total respondent universe (1,209 likely New Jersey general election voters), only 33 percent say they believe Sen. Booker should run for president, while 54 percent say he should not, this with a Senate job approval rating is 57:33 percent positive to negative. Even among Democrats, the presidential question is less than overwhelming. Within his own party member polling cell, 54 percent think he should run nationally, while a full 30 percent believes he should not.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D), the state’s senior senator, who faces a federal trial later this year on a myriad of corruption charges, stands at an even 41:41 percent in his job approval score. Obviously, this will change once greater publicity regarding his legal situation more fully emerges when the trial commences. Should he be convicted, the 2018 Senate campaign will likely bust wide open irrespective of whether or not the senator seeks re-election.