Should New Jersey’s Democratic Governor Jon Corzine win reelection next Tuesday, despite approval ratings that remain in the basement, he should be grateful his Republican opponent never considered the advice of former President Thomas E. Dewey after learning the results of the 1948 election.
Oh, whoops, I’m sorry, I forget, I was, uh, looking at the polls from that campaign and saw that Dewey had led the then-not very popular incumbent President Harry S Truman throughout the campaign, edging the Democrat by 5 points in the final pre-election poll. On Election Day, he lost by nearly that amount.
You see, the aforementioned Mr. Dewey looked at his lead in the polls and said it was good. He thought it was enough just to be the opposition to an unpopular incumbent. Wanting a change, people would surely vote for the candidate most likely to beat the Democrat. He wouldn’t need to wage an aggressive campaign.
Well, Harry Truman ran a spirited campaign. And the rest is, as they say, history. Perhaps because Mr. Dewey carried New Jersey by roughly the same margin he led in the last national poll, Corzine’s Republican opponent Chris Christie may have thought Dewey’s strategy of sitting on his lead would work in the Garden State.
The current polls, however, tell a different story, a very tight race, with some surveys giving the hapless Democrat an edge. Hapless he may be as an executive, but he’s been ruthless on the campaign trail, zinging the Republican with tens of millions of dollars of negative campaign ads.
Perhaps, had Christie run a more aggressive campaign, he might have maintained his lead and be sailing to victory as his fellow partisan Bob McDonnell seems to be doing in Virginia. Or he might be ahead if he had done a better job spelling out what he intended to do once elected. Earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal‘s Political Diary, John Fund observed that
Mr. Christie has also been hurt by his failure to come up with clear plans for dealing with the state’s No. 1 issue: sky-high property taxes. Only 12% of voters, including a quarter of Republicans, believe he will be able to cut those taxes if elected governor.
This should serve as a reminder to Republicans who want to do well next fall in what promises to be a difficult election for the incumbent party: you’ve got to stand for something if you want to beat a well-funded Democratic machine.