Tuesday, September 16, 2008

New Jersey U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

New Jersey U.S. Senate

September 16, 2008
49 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2004 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Outlook: Leans Democrat

For several years now, Republicans have been frustrated in attempts to win statewide contests in the Garden State that had appeared seemingly in reach. As New Jersey continues to trend more Democrat, there is not too much GOP optimism about the U.S. Senate contest there this year, even as some recent polls show the Presidential race moving surprisingly closer. While the Democrats are solidly favored to keep this Senate seat, the race still has to be expected to be competitive.

The seat may be especially frustrating to Republicans considering they had a very good chance of winning it six years ago against the ethnically challenged reelection seeking incumbent. Seeing the writing on the wall though, that Senator withdrew from the race, very close to the election, and the state party, through some questionable legal rulings, was able to replace him with former U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, who had retired two years earlier. At the time, many expected the septugenerian Lautenberg not to actually stick around the Senate long, and to retire once again during his new term. However, the now 84 year old Democrat did stick it out and surprised even more people by running for another term this year. He was able to farily handily dispatch a well-known Congressman earlier this year in a Democrat primary, in which the Senator's age and effectiveness was at least the elephant (or donkey) in the room.

Republicans have seen their own drama leading up to the general election. Many in the party thought they had recruited a potentially strong Republican challenger, in an independently wealthy businesswoman, whose social moderation could have made her a very attractive alternative to Lautenberg. Her supporters were surely disappointed when she had to abruptly leave the race due to health concerns. For a while, it looked like the Republican primary would be contested purely between a couple of candidates who were considered too little known or too ideological to be a real good statewide fit. The GOP got a break though when some strings were pulled which allowed former Congressman Dick Zimmer to make it onto the primary ballot as a replacement candidate. While he had to sweat out that primary election night a bit, he did prevail and earned the right to face Lautenberg, in one of two U.S. Senate races this year between two Jewish major party nominees.

Zimmer was a well respected moderate Congressman before losing a vicious rough and tumble U.S. Senate race in 1996. Two years later, he attempted to win his House seat back but lost that race in a razor thin contest. His most recent electoral history may not be much to write home about, but Zimmer does appear to be the best the GOP could have put up in New Jersey on such short notice.

Perhaps due to the divisive nature of the Democrat primary, some early general election polls showed some surprising strength for Zimmer and for a time it looked like he could really pose a threat to Lautenberg. More recent polls have been mixed however. Some have shown Lautenberg with an unassaliable lead while most others have shown him ahead by smaller margins. Right now, the numbers point to a high single to low double digit lead for the incumbent, who while once thought to be quite vulnerable, now appears more secure in the state than his party's Presidential nominee.

New Jersey is an expensive state in which to run, as candidates need to advertise in both the Philadelphia and New York City markets. In order to catapult this race back onto the radar, Zimmer needs to score heavily in potential debates or hope for some sort of gaffe or "You Tube moment" from Lautenberg, whose discourse is not always pretty, or something that further gives voters concerns about his age or temperment. It will be a tough task, but perhaps Zimmer and Jersey Republicans should take some solace in the fact that there was a Senate race in Virginia two years ago in which the incumbent also looked to be fine shape before saying something dumb on camera.

Zimmer campaign link:


2008 U.S. Senate races predicted: 10 D, 12 R
Predicted Senate balance of power thus far: 49 D, 38 R


At 11:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So Lautenberg's age and temperament are fair game while any such reference to these attributes in McCain is either ageist or insensitive to his POW experience? I just love the GOP's collective double standards.


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