Republican congressional candidate Jon Runyan surged 10 points in an independent poll released Friday, and to top off the day, Gov. Christie told about 300 of the former Eagle's supporters at an afternoon rally that "this is the most important race in New Jersey to me."
According to a poll sponsored by Richard Stockton College's Hughes Public Policy Center, Runyan is in a statistical dead heat with freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. John Adler in the Third District, which runs through Burlington and Ocean Counties and includes Cherry Hill in Camden County.
Runyan was favored by 40 percent to Adler's 37 percent of 600 likely voters polled by the college between Monday and Friday. Because the margin of error was plus or minus 4.1 percentage points, it is unclear exactly who is ahead.
A Stockton poll conducted in September had Adler with 38 percent to Runyan's 30 percent.
Adler's campaign took issue with the latest poll results, saying in a statement, "Every other poll we have seen shows Congressman Adler winning this race."
The poll also showed that the candidacy of Peter DeStefano, an independent running under the tag of "NJ Tea Party" seems to be collapsing. DeStefano fell from 7.6 percent in September to 4.9 percent in the recent poll.
Runyan's campaign has complained since the summer that Adler supporters propped up DeStefano to siphon votes away from Runyan.
Still, DeStefano could turn out to be a spoiler.
"In a race this tight, people defecting in either direction can make the difference," said Sharon Schulman, director of Stockton's Hughes center.
Runyan also has another problem that could peak in the final days before Nov. 2.
At an Ocean County College forum Tuesday, Adler asked Runyan whether he disagreed with any U.S. Supreme Court decisions rendered in the last 10 to 15 years. Runyan named the Dred Scott decision of 1857, in which the court upheld the practice of slavery. A YouTube video of that exchange, complete with a snickering audience, has received thousands of hits since then.
As New Jersey's most competitive House race winds into its final days, both candidates are shoring up their bases.
Christie spoke to Runyan supporters at a headquarters rally in Mount Laurel and later stopped at the Marlton Diner. He plans to campaign with Runyan in Toms River on Sunday.
Adler has not called in the cavalcade of House Democrats who stumped with him in 2008. Instead, he has held appearances with business groups, veterans, police, and firefighters to tout their endorsements.
"Adler is really in a bind and has to appear as a moderate Democrat," said La Salle University political scientist Joseph Marbach, who watches New Jersey politics. "At best, that limits him in terms of the stars in the Democratic Party who he might be able to bring in."
But Adler won't be traveling alone over the weekend, either. Today, he plans to appear with Newark Mayor Cory Booker at a rally in Willingboro.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee booked $700,000 worth of broadcast TV time in the Philadelphia market for the final week of the race.
About 80 House seats, including the Third, are in play. Most analysts expect Republicans to capture at least 39 seats and take control of the House.
To pump up Runyan supporters Friday, Christie told them that "in order for Republicans to retake the House of Representatives, we have to win in the Third Congressional District."
Adler won the seat in 2008, becoming the first Democrat in memory to represent it. However, the area voted for Republican Christie last year.
As one of the party's newest stars, Christie has some skin in this game. He is wrapping up a nationwide political sweep during which he has campaigned for gubernatorial and congressional candidates. To keep his star bright, he must show the party he can win a race on his home turf.
"If the governor is going to continue to maintain this image as the new, exciting face and brand of the Republican Party, then I think he would be helped if he could show he can deliver a Republican victory in the House," Rider University political scientist Ben Dworkin said.