A focus group shows why the race is too close to call

Jon Corzine is the irresponsible son who spends too much money. Chris Christie is the brother in law who talks too much. And Chris Daggett is someone a cousin just started dating.

Those were some of the more amusing responses Monmouth University Polling Institute Director Patrick Murray got when he asked a panel of undecided voters which of their relatives the three major gubernatorial candidates reminded them of.

The rest of the discussion, however, was not so light. Even the talk about relatives turned to cynicism, when most of the participants said they would not want to have either Corzine or Christie as a relative (Daggett, however, was considered more of a nice guy and, according to one panelist, "approachable.").

"I can't even imagine the other two in my family," said Bordentown resident David Marciniak.

The discussion took place at a focus group facility in an Edison office building. The ten panelists, all white and ranging in age from 30-something to 70-something, were drawn from participants in Monmouth telephone polls (Murray said that two panelists who did not show up were from minority groups). There were six men and four women. Four identified themselves as independents, three as Republicans, two as Democrats and one "other."

Most of the panelists did not like Corzine, but felt frustrated by the Christie campaign's lack of specifics. They were much warmer to Daggett, though some were hesitant to vote for him because they did not think he could win.

Many of the participants expressed a sense of dread about the economy and their employment. One, a 59-year-old database technician named David Marcus, said that, while he's happy at his current job, he's afraid that his employer will outsource it.

"It's like we're at the edge of a precipice," he said. "If I lose my job now that's probably it for me. Nobody wants to hire someone who's 59 years old."

Others were concerned that they will have to put off retirement, or simply never would be able to stop working. Health care also factored in, with one participant complaining of astronomical insurance premiums. Property taxes and taxes in general were, of course, another top concern.

Universal among the panelists was a sense of cynicism about politics in general.

"I've sort of lost interest. Regardless of who wins, how are things going to change?" said Rachel Zetooney, a stay-at-home mom from Eatontown. "It's just about winning. It's not about issues. It's not about changing peoples' lives and making them better."

At one point, Murray asked the panelists to write down the first thought that came to mind about each of the major candidates.

Corzine, for the most part, was paired with negative associations: "corrupt," "crooked," "too liberal," "incompetent," and "it's probably not fair, but Carla Katz." Three people associated Corzine positively: "capable," "honest" and "superlative."

Christie fared better than Corzine in that category, with respondents noting associating him with "law enforcement," his take downs of "crooked politicians" and his being "aggressive" and "ambitious" in a positive sense. He did get some negative responses, however, including "untrustworthy" and "science fiction" – a reference made by Jay Sincoff, an accountant from Monroe, on what he saw as Christie's overly vague plans.

"He says he's going to cut taxes, but how do you cut taxes with $8 billion deficits?" he said.

When it came to Daggett, two respondents wrote "unknown." Others included "taxes on services," simply "no," "potential," "too little, too late," "wasted vote" and "thoughtful."

But as the discussion went on, and the panel continued to criticize Corzine and Christie, they warmed to Daggett.

"I think a message needs to be sent to the parties that there are independent out there who can do a good job," said Jim Flynn, a financial advisor from Mendham, which is Christie's home town.

The group's responses also matched the polling data that shows Daggett pulling more voters from Christie than Corzine. When asked if they would definitely vote for Christie if Daggett was not in the race, six raised their hands.

Five of the panelists said they would not vote for Jon Corzine, one said she will not vote for Christie and two said they will not vote for Daggett.

When asked to name a Democrat they would rather see run than Corzine, one member volunteered Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland). No others were named. When asked if there was a Republican they'd rather see run than Christie, retired Middletown resident Gus Brandstetter named his district's assemblywoman, Amy Handlin (R-Middletown).

At the end of the discussion, participants were asked what candidates they were learning towards. Six said Daggett, though with qualifiers. Frank Cassera, a 48-year-old Mount Laurel resident, said that his vote for Daggett was contingent on his viability.

"What I'll probably wind up doing on Monday is dig for the latest polls, and if he's in the 20's or close I'll vote for him," he said.

"Since the print publication of this list, Christie, in his capacity as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, helped decisively turn the midterm elections in the Republicans' favor, which makes him a bit more influential than we initially gave him credit for, post-Bridgegate. So when your state governments do absolutely nothing for you for the next four years, be sure to thank him!"
—GQ