A pair of polls released yesterday showed Christopher J. Christie leading Steve Lonegan by a double-digit margin in the Republican gubernatorial primary race.
Christie, a former U.S. attorney, is culling voters from among pragmatic conservatives who believe he is the better bet to beat Democratic Gov. Corzine in the fall.
According to the new Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll, Christie's supporters are older and more moderate than Lonegan's supporters, who consider themselves staunchly conservative.
Christie led Lonegan, a former mayor of Bogota in Bergen County, 50 percent to 32 percent in the poll. The poll of 706 "very likely" June 2 primary voters, taken between May 13 and Monday, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The gap was even wider - 56 percent to 33 percent - in the latest Quinnipiac University poll. That poll, taken between May 12 and Monday, sampled 543 likely Republican voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Clay Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll, noted that Christie had "solidified his Republican support and is well over the 50 percent needed for victory." However, he cautioned that "no one knows who will turn out in a New Jersey Republican primary, so anything can happen."
Lonegan could pick up voters among younger Republicans, Murray said. He added, however, that younger voters were less likely to vote than older ones, and that Lonegan would have to mount an effective get-out-the-vote operation. His campaign has been trying to do that, working the grass roots and building on a network of conservative Republicans.
Christie has establishment-party backing. He has shown signs in recent weeks that his campaign was worried about getting conservative support. Last month, he abandoned his strategy of concentrating on Corzine and began openly criticizing Lonegan.
The two have battled over Lonegan's proposal for a 2.9 percent flat income tax. Christie says it would raise taxes on lower-income earners. Lonegan says Christie doesn't have much of a plan at all.
Though Christie has not said when or by how much he would cut the state income tax, he has said he would cut taxes for all earners.
Republicans think they have a shot at taking the governor's office because of Corzine's perceived unpopularity, including a 53 percent disapproval rating in the new Quinnipiac poll.
In the same poll, which included many Democrats, Corzine lagged Christie in a hypothetical fall matchup, 45 percent to 38 percent. The margin of error for that sample was plus or minus 2 percentage points.