Rider University Political Science Professor Ben Dworkin sees real consequences for Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, in the mid-term elections. Christie has been identified as a potential national candidate in light of his budget cutting measures. Dworkin also comments on the role played by Tea Party activists in his state and elsewhere. His analysis is as follows:
The Governor has a lot riding on this election. This is not just because he campaigned vigorously for dozens of candidates around the country.
For the Governor, it’s probably more important to see how Republican congressional candidates do here in New Jersey. If Republicans are able to knock off any of the incumbent Democrats in the state, Christie and his supporters will show that it is evidence that the Governor’s brand of Republicanism can really delivery victories in the northeast.
We should remember that over the last two election cycles, northeast Republican members of Congress have been decimated; “an extinct species” said some pundits after 2008. So if Christie can claim that he “delivered” GOP victories in the House in blue New Jersey, it will further brandish his image in the national Republican party and provide him with an even bigger platform heading in to the 2012 election cycle.
By the same token, if Democratic incumbents hold on to their seats in New Jersey, some of the shine on the Governor’s image will be tarnished because he wasn’t able to roll back the Democrats in his own backyard.
The Tea Party Misnomer
Following the election, much will be said about the impact of the “tea party” segment of the population. Their influence on Republican primaries across the nation is undeniable, and their probable influence in the next Congress is significant.
But the term “tea party” — as applied in this election — is a misnomer. The tea party label is an attempt to impose organization on something that emerged quite naturally in the electorate.
Recall the summer of 2009. Democratic members of Congress in New Jersey, and around the country, were inundated with angry voters who were coming out to protest the possible changes in the health care system. There wasn’t a tea party organization. There were just frustrated and angry citizens.
Clearly today, we can look at these public outbursts as a sign of things to come.
I believe there is a large segment of the electorate who are seeking “change with fiscal restraint.” These are the people who give the tea party their strength, even if they don’t consider themselves members of the tea party.
The Swing Voters of 2010
Forget Soccer Moms. Forget Nascar Dads. “Change with fiscal restraint” voters are the swing voters in today’s electorate. (Yes, I know it’s not as catchy a phrase, but that doesn’t make it wrong.)
New Jersey provides an ideal example of how these voters can shift. In 2008, Obama won New Jersey by 18%. The next year, Christie wins by more than 80,000 votes. I think the biggest swing segment of the population were the “change with fiscal restraint” voters.
In 2008, these voters were not against the Iraq War per se, but they were upset about spending $1 billion a week and not having a clear victory. Later on, these voters were not against the idea of health care reform; indeed, many will benefit directly from some of the changes. But they were upset with spending a trillion dollars to get it done.
Obama offered different change for different people. Some saw him as a vehicle for a new progressive approach to public policy. Some saw him as a change to the stifling bitterness of Washington. Some saw him as more reasonable on spending matters than the Bush administration.
Where the Democrats make a critical mistake is when they lump all the “change voters” together. They are not all the same. The “change with fiscal restraint” voters are those who can vote for someone like Obama one year and then Christie the next.
Congressional Democrats brought significant change to Washington over the last two years. They have a list of accomplishments that is as broad as any Congress since 1932. However, they can hardly claim to be speaking for those who wanted “change with fiscal restraint” and those are the people who are most likely to abandon the Democrats for the Republicans in this election. They are the pivotal swing voters in 2010.
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