Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Not much to see, let's move along... Well not quite yet!

Well, the Tea Party surprises in the Congressional primaries were few and far between yesterday in New Jersey, suggesting as our polling has shown that the Tea Party movement in the state is 1) primarily a within-Republican Party movement, and 2) not all that strong. No Congressional incumbent lost, and Leonard Lance (R-7th) thought by some to be at risk, pulled off a handy victory over three challengers claiming the Tea Party mantle. His majority win suggests that even if there had been only one, Lance would have won. John Runyan, set to challenge incumbent John Alder (D-3rd), looked early on like the challenge by Justin Murphy would be tight (at one point about 54-46, but in the end Runyan won 60-40. In the 12th District, Scott Sipprelle had to fend off a challenge from David Corsi, which he did 54%-46%.

So the NJ Congressional race that looks like it will be the most competitive is the 3rd, where Adler now faces the presumably stronger challenger in Runyan. And given a certain amount of voter dissatisfaction with incumbents this year and the nature of the district, Adler is likely in for a real fight. But Runyan will have to actually raise a lot more money than he has so far to compete effectively with the incumbent. It may be an anti-incumbent year (though that really remains to be shown in NJ) but incumbents start with lots of advantages, even in a bad year. Remember, in 1994, when the Democrats got slaughtered by Newt Gingerich and the Republicans, 89.8% of incumbents who sought reelection won.

And Rush Hold (D-12) will face the clearly stronger Republican challenger in Sipprelle, which might well make the race interesting.

But of course that doesn't mean there was NOTHING interesting going on yesterday that. In fact, as of this writing, we do not know whether the establishment Republican Diane Gooch or Tea Party favorite Anna Little will be the nominee in the 6th District to face Democrat incumbent Frank Pallone. Little is up by about 60 votes, with 1 precinct not reported and provisional votes to count. If she should win it would be a stunning blow to the Republican establishment in the 6th District, and Pallone's re-election may have gotten a little easier. Where Gooch raised over $400,000 so far, Little has raised all of $22,000. This does not suggest she will be a fundraising powerhouse if she wins.

Why is the race so close in the 6th? Well, the turnout was abysmal. A total of about 13,500 votes were cast in the primary. (Congressional districts have 300,000 plus voters of all parties/independents). With such a tiny turnout, a small number of committed activists can make a big difference as rank and file voters stay home on primary day. And that certainly seems to be what happened here. But it doesn't suggest that the same will happen in a general election.

There is no doubt there is a dedicated element of the Republican Party that is fed up. We have seen this clearly in our polling on the Tea Party in NJ and others have seen it nationally. But I still stand by the evidence that this is a small group in New Jersey and despite what I heard pundits saying on NJN last night, it is almost entirely populated by Republicans. Our polling showed only 10% of of Democrats and 29% of Independents reporting a favorable impression of the movement. Now that the primaries are over, the action is not with the Tea Party but with NJ independent voters. They usually vote Democrat where there are Democratic incumbents and Republican where there are Republican incumbents. And our early polling last February suggested they plan to do the same this year. But will they?

The elections this fall come down to the question of which way independents will swing (if they even vote). Will Republican challengers be able to ride on the Chris Christie coattails that brought him victory by convincingly winning independents? If so, maybe a couple Democrats will get a scare (and Adler will have a real fight in any case.) If not, then the fall is likely to be mostly business as usual at the Congressional level in New Jersey.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Primary Day in NJ - Will it be time to Tea Party?

It's Tuesday June 8, 2010. Primary Day in New Jersey. As we've learned from various media reports, there are many more candidates than usual throwing their hats in the ring to challenge apparently entrenched incumbents.

Around the country - if the pundits are to be believed - there is a sense of frustration, outrage, and activism that puts the old guard of both parties at risk. Look at Pennsylvania, where party-switcher Arlen Specter was knocked out by upstart (well, ok, he's a Congressman, not exactly and outsider) Joe Sestak. And there's Kentucky where libertarian and Tea Party favorite Rand Paul knocked off Mitch McConnell's favored son. And today we'll see if Blanche Lincoln, Democratic incumbent in Arkansas gets run over by the "outsider" express (actually the liberal express, which seems a bit odd in Arkansas.)

There is no question there is a sense of unease around the country. Numerous polls have picked it up and many pundits are trying to get a handle on what it means. In New Jersey last February (a lifetime ago in politics) The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll looked at support for the Tea Party movement. (see our releases here and here). What did we find? First, across all NJ voters, there was limited support for the Tea Party, with only 27% expressing a "favorable" opinion, while another 44% had no opinion. Not exactly a rousing call to arms at the time, after a year of rallies, debates, and media attention. New Jersey would not seem a hospitable state for Tea Partying.

But underneath that we also found that HALF of Republicans had a favorable impression, more than enough to put fear into non-Tea-Party establishment Republicans. And maybe more interestingly, we found that Tea Party supporters were MORE likely to also say they support the two party system, rather than seeking a third party to run against Republicans and Democrats. And Tea Partiers were really angry - about two-thirds said that Democrats made them angry (compared to 32% of other voters) and even one-third said Republicans made them angry (compared to 50% of non-Tea-Party voters).

So this plays out today in the New Jersey Congressional primaries. reports that Tea Party challengers to Republican establishment candidates have not raised large amounts of money. Moreover, in one high profile case (Rep. Leonard Lance's challengers in the 7th district) the presence of multiple insurgent candidates claiming the Tea Party mantle will make it harder to overcome the incumbent's natural advantages.

The wild card though is that voters don't pay much attention to primaries, as witness the latest FDU poll. But you can be sure the activists do! So the key question is (as always) about turnout. If Tea Party Republicans are more likely to turn out and to be in slash and burn anti-establishment mode, there could be some surprises tonight in New Jersey. But given the huge imbalance in campaign funds - with all of the incumbents and establishment candidates well funded, and all of the challenges far less so - even the fury of Tea Party supporters may not be enough to overcome an entrenched establishment in New Jersey.