New Jersey: Where Pundits Go to Be Wrong

Newark Mayor Cory Booker laughs at the podium with stage manager David Cove (R) during a walkthrough before the start of day one of the Democratic National Convention on September 4, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Last Friday, I sat in for the Cook Political Report’s first midterm election briefing. This far out, an event like that is mostly going to be useful as a scale for conventional wisdom. And it was! At one point, an audience member (the audience consisted mostly of politicos and PAC hacks) asked Charlie Cook and his team how Cory Booker looked in the 2014 race for Senate in New Jersey. There was a consensus: Booker had done no favors by tangling with Sen. Frank Lautenberg and pissing him off—it had gone “as badly as it could,” we were told.

“How’d Booker do in South Jersey?” asked a Cook analyst, rhetorically.

“Maybe he wins Camden,” sniffed a well-dressed politico sitting next to me.

I didn’t get any of this. Was the Booker-Lautenberg contretemps awkward? Did it reveal Booker’s “glass jaw”? Looked to me like Booker successfully boosted Lautenberg out of the race while consistently polling a 2-1 lead over the senator. Could Booker lose a primary once he had to run statewide? Let’s check the polls.

The latest poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind finds that among registered voters who are self-identified Democrats, Cory Booker is the favored candidate to win the Democratic nomination. Half of those queried say they would like to see Booker get the nod, with Congressmen Frank Pallone (4%) and Rush Holt (7%) commanding significantly less support. About a third (32%) are undecided. Booker’s support is up modestly from PublicMind’s January poll (42%), when the question included Frank Lautenberg, who was still considered a likely candidate.

And a Februrary poll from Quinnipiac gave Booker a net +36 favorable rating in the Philadelphia ‘burbs, and a net +42 rating on the shore. The idea that Booker is struggling outside his own Newark is a product of New York/D.C. chatter, not anything measurable in the state.

Could Booker blow this thing? Sure! I’m not rooting for some primary coronation. I just enjoy it when political analysts overrate chatter and buzz from people with agendas and completely miss the dynamics of a race.