With a record high approval among New Jersey’s voters, and YouTube and town hall moments that showcase his brash style of governing, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie looks unbeatable in his re-election bid. But Christie faces some competition–a longtime progressive state lawmaker, Barbara Buono, who has decided to take on the imposing challenge of trying to unseat the incumbent.
A recent Monmouth University poll released in February found Buono trailing 42 points behind Christie. According to the poll, more than six in ten New Jersey voters would want to give Governor Christie a second term. The poll also found Christie’s approval rating standing at 70% to 16% disapproving among registered voters. Since December, his standing has gone up from 69% among voters.
A February Quinnipiac University poll found New Jersey voters approving Governor Christie at a record-breaking 74% rating, the highest any New Jersey governor has received in 17 years of Quinnipiac University surveys; 71% of voters also believed that the governor deserves re-election this year.
But despite the governor’s well-regarded public image–whether self-mockingly scarfing down doughnuts on Late Night with David Letterman or blasting constituents and reporters–New Jersey continues to struggle with a depressed economy, and the numbers behind the Garden State’s dwindling economy and state budget are staggering.
In Christie’s State of the State address in January, there was no mention of the state’s unemployment rate which is at all all time high of 9.6 percent–above the national average and among the highest it has been in 35 years. The last time New Jersey’s unemployment rate has been as much as 1.4 percentage points higher than the national rate was in 1978, according to U.S. labor department statistics. While neighboring states are continuing to do better economically, New Jersey maintains the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the country. As the state’s unemployment rate rose during 2012, the governor did not propose a comprehensive jobs bill or economic plan.
More than 100,000 people–7.7% of all New Jersey homeowners–are currently foreclosing their homes, and the rate is rising even across southern New Jersey. From January of last year to January of this year, foreclosure filings have doubled in the state. Even after the federal government granted the state $300 million to help homeowners keep their homes, Governor Christie allocated only 10% of the funds for 750 homeowners.
The state’s poverty rate has increased to 11.4% of the population, a number that has risen every year since the governor took office in 2010. The wealth gap between the rich and the poor is the largest it has been since the Great Depression, and New Jersey currently ranks 45th in the nation in the rate of growth in personal income.
The Monmouth University poll also finds widespread support for raising the state’s minimum wage. In late January, Governor Christie vetoed a Democratic bill that would have increased the state’s minimum wage to $8.50. New Jersey’s minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour, the lowest allowed by federal law. Christie has proposed raising the minimum wage by a dollar over three years. He also offered a 5% increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers, a program the governor cut by the same amount in 2011. However, the governor’s opposition to the bill does not appear to be a liability for his re-election campaign.
Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono, have accused Governor Christie of being blinded by his aspirations for national office, citing his rejection of federal funding for the ARC, Access to the Region’s Core, a commuter rail tunnel linking the state to Manhattan and instead investing state funds in a megamall in the Meadlowlands and a casino in Atlantic City as evidence.
Additionally, Christie has raised taxes on low-income workers and homeowners by slashing their tax credits. He vetoed a temporary surcharge on millionaires and raising the state’s gasoline tax, which is the third-lowest in America. Christie diverted money from the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, which gets its money primarily from the state’s gas tax and would have paid for the ARC project to fill in budget holes. The TTF is projected to be insolvent in 2011.
For three years in a row, Christie has vetoed a tax increase for the state’s wealthiest citizens, contending it would lead to a mass exodus of rich people. Instead, he has insisted on massive spending cuts. Christie’s 2012 tax-cut proposal (which died in the state legislature) did very little for the middle class and instead gave tax cuts to the wealthy. And while Christie has lobbied hard for his state to receive federal Sandy recovery funding and agreed to accept Medicaid money provided under Obamacare like several other Republican governors, the numbers of his tenure in office tell a very mixed story.