A game of political hot potato is going on in New Jersey between the two major party gubernatorial candidates, with independent Chris Daggett playing the part of the potato. Originally seen as a “spoiler” candidate who would appeal to voters who typically favor Republicans, an endorsement from the Sierra Club is changing that.
Daggett was previously the head of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection and the regional administrator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency. As a candidate for governor, he has been polling between five and ten percent. The endorsement from the Sierra Club is the most significant endorsement for him so far.
Due to his previous affiliation with the Republican Party, Daggett was originally assumed to have the most appeal with Republicans and independents who typically vote Republican. However, after getting considerable recognition for his environmental credentials, he now seems to have more appeal to liberal-leaning voters, and his supposed role as a “spoiler” is becoming less predictable.
In New Jersey, the Star-Ledger Editorial Board commented:
It might get him some money — Sierra claims 20,000 members in New Jersey and 750,000 nationally — but it won’t get him elected. The best thing it does for Daggett is bring him a smidgen of much-needed attention and something to trumpet. He’ll need more than that, however, much more.
The conventional wisdom is that, as an election day factor, Daggett probably takes more votes from Republican Chris Christie than from Gov. Jon Corzine. But with the Sierra Club prize, he takes from Corzine, the Democrat whom Sierra endorsed for governor four years ago. Already trailing in the polls, Corzine can ill-afford to lose the backing of groups that supported him in the past.
The Republican Governors Association even launched an ad using a Sierra Club analysis, possibly hoping to spin the spoiler effect in their favor:
The text of the ad:
The Sierra Club says Jon Corzine has the worst environmental record in New Jersey history. Jon Corzine is weakening water quality standards. Jon Corzine has allowed New Jersey to lose public open space. Jon Corzine has ignored numerous toxic waste sites. And Jon Corzine has overseen huge giveaways to developers and polluters while raising taxes on hardworking New Jerseyans. Jon Corzine: Bad for Business. Bad for Taxpayers. Bad for the Environment.
Interestingly, a comparison has been drawn between this race and the 2006 race for governor in Illinois. One clear difference is that the major third party candidate in that race was clearly to the left of either major party, but the National Journal points out the similarities:
However, this race is reminiscent of the 2006 IL GOV contest. The major party choices that year were Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who voters didn’t like very much and GOP Treas. Judy Baar Topinka, who had equally high negative ratings. Not surprisingly, many voters saw the third-party candidate as an appealing alternative and Rich Whitney, the Green party nom., took 10%. Whitney’s showing was 7 pts. higher than that of the two third party candidates combined in ’02.