Chris Christie is already the frontrunner for New Jersey governor in a new poll, only days after winning the GOP nomination.
And it's no wonder. Gov. Corzine has been dealt a lousy hand for reelection, grappling with the worst recession in a half-century, high unemployment, weak tax revenues, and a mountain of inherited state debt.
New Jersey's property taxes are the highest in the nation, but Corzine is revoking rebates for almost all homeowners to help close a budget gap of more than $3 billion.
At the same time, Corzine is proposing to raise income taxes on households making more than $400,000. He needs to balance the budget with the Legislature by the end of June.
Christie, incredibly, says if elected he will cut income taxes and corporate taxes across the board. Sound good? You bet it does.
But as this governor's race progresses, Christie will need to fill in a few gaps of his own. He stands to inherit the same conditions that have been battering New Jersey's economy for the past two years.
For example, how would Christie balance the state budget while lowering revenue further through tax cuts? Corzine will have cut the budget in absolute dollars two years in a row. That's unprecedented in any state, and especially in New Jersey. Tax cuts would require even deeper budget reductions by Christie.
That's not to say it can't be done, but Christie was deliberately vague during the Republican primary campaign about how he intends to achieve even bigger savings in Trenton.
Corzine has tried to encourage municipal consolidation by cutting state aid to small towns. Christie, instead, says he would encourage mergers by giving out grants. Maybe it would work in the long run, but it also sounds like more state spending in the short term. Where would Christie find the money for it, while cutting taxes?
The enormous state pension imbalance will be waiting for Christie, if elected, as will the state's burdensome interest payments caused by high per-capita debt.
Corzine's poll numbers are dismal, partly because he's making unpopular moves to fix these fiscal challenges. But coasting time is over for Christie. Now, he must tell voters with specificity how he would tackle the same long-term problems more effectively.